Netanyahu should meet with Biden during his trip to the US

©The Jerusalem Post

THEN-US vice president Joe Biden embraces Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2016. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Washington has not hosted the signing of a peace agreement between Israeli and Arab leaders since Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn under the watchful gaze of Bill Clinton on September 13, 1993.
This is set to change next week, however, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed will travel to the US to sign a normalization pact, with President Donald Trump sure to be glowing as he looks on.
With the American elections less than two months away, such a ceremony is a boon for Trump, cloaking him in the mantle of a peacemaker.
The ceremony is also good politically for Netanyahu. For at least a few hours, it will take the focus off the coronavirus crisis, where he has failed, and put it squarely on Israel’s thriving foreign relations, where he has succeeded.
Numerous dignitaries from around the world are expected to witness the event, including the leaders of a number of Arab and Persian Gulf countries, some of whom may soon be inking their own accords with Israel. It would be nice if the Trump administration were to invite some key Democratic lawmakers to the event as well, to give it a bipartisan feel.
But one man who certainly will not be in attendance is Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden. Nevertheless, Netanyahu should make a point of arranging a meeting with the former vice president, or at least set up a well-publicized phone call with him.
Netanyahu should do this even though logistically, such a meeting will be a challenge – both because he is expected to be in the US only briefly before hurrying back to Israel for Rosh Hashanah two days later, and because COVID-19 has put a severe crimp in Biden’s ability to travel.
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But if Biden can’t make it to Washington to meet Netanyahu – whom he once said he “loves,” although he doesn’t agree with a “damn thing he says” – then Netanyahu should make the 100-mile trip from Washington to Wilmington, Delaware, to meet the man who could be the next president.
Such a move would not be looked upon favorably by Trump, who has done a great deal for Israel and wants to underline that in his campaign.
Nevertheless, this is a case where the good of Israel necessitates Netanyahu to politely tell Trump that an Israeli prime minister must do what an Israeli prime minister must do. And in an election year, Israeli prime ministers, consistently, have felt the need to meet both parties’ candidates. Call this wisely hedging one’s bets.
For instance, in September of 2016, ahead of the last US presidential election, Netanyahu – visiting New York for the annual UN General Assembly meeting – met separately with Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
In 2012, during his visit to the UN in September, Netanyahu – widely, albeit inaccurately, accused of stumping for Republican candidate Mitt Romney – spoke by phone with Romney and then president Barack Obama.
Obama, with whom Netanyahu had a rocky relationship, actually turned down a Netanyahu request for a meeting at that time. The prime minister had met Romney two months earlier in Jerusalem.
The last time an Israeli prime minister did not meet with both US presidential candidates during an election year was in 2004, when Ariel Sharon met with George W. Bush, but during that same visit to the US, he snubbed John Kerry, the Democratic candidate.
As Kerry later went on to become a secretary of state who was very critical of Israel, one could justifiably ask about Sharon’s cold shoulder: “How did that work out?”
Netanyahu, it is obvious to all, likes Trump, has a very good relationship with him and is grateful for what the president has done for Israel. But Netanyahu must look beyond November and do what is in Israel’s best interests.
And what is in Israel’s best interests – even if not in Trump’s – is for the prime minister to meet Biden to demonstrate in the most tangible way possible that Israel is not, and does not want to become a partisan wedge issue.
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