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Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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It was clear from the very beginning of his campaign for president that Joe Biden intended to focus on domestic affairs.
Certainly, he intended to repair relations with the nation’s traditional allies — while containing Russia and managing a relationship with China which had gone off the rails under four years of Donald Trump.
But that was to be, more or less, the extent of President Biden’s focus on foreign policy.
He would be much more engaged on managing the response to the coronavirus pandemic, the widespread economic fallout from that pandemic, and repairing a nation nearly torn apart by insurrection.
Biden did not plan on being a “foreign policy president” the way that, say, that George HW Bush had been — or even the way that Bill Clinton turned out to be.
However, events over the last couple of weeks in the Middle East have now conspired to upend Biden’s notion.
Israel and the Palestinians have resumed an armed conflict which has led to dead on both sides.
But, this time, Israel’s provocation and history of gross mistreatment of the Palestinians in what amounts to a de-facto apartheid state can no longer be ignored.
This has made the expected pro-forma statements by President Biden and some other US officials begin to ring hollow.
This has especially become the case as a growing chorus in Biden’s own Democratic Party are seeking stronger protection for the Palestinians and their rights — including the right to resist Israeli settlements on their land in violation of international law.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “the evictions of [Palestinian] families in East Jerusalem would violate international law” and challenged the Biden administration to respond.
“If the Biden Administration puts the rule of law and human rights at the heart of its foreign policy, this is not a moment for tepid statements,” he tweeted.
What is required, is for Biden and his foreign policy team to take a much more active role in much the same way that President Bill Clinton and his administration attempted nearly a generation ago.
Clinton personally pulled together Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Jordan’s King Hussein for a high-stakes summit at the secluded Wye River Plantation in Maryland.
The summit — in which Clinton and his top diplomats at turns worked with the opposing parties — culminated in the Wye River Memorandum.
It’s time for Biden and his team to get just as hands-on. Diplomacy is not unknown to the 46th president. He spent several years either as chairman or ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during which which he met with at least 150 leaders from 60 countries and international organizations, becoming a well-known Democratic voice on foreign policy.
Neither has Biden shrunk from high-profile encounters in the past. In April 1993, Biden spent a week in the Balkans and held a tense three-hour meeting with Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. Biden related that he had told Milošević, “I think you’re a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one.”
With hundreds dead, thousands wounded and some 34,000 Palestinians estimated to have been displaced as a result of the new fighting, Biden must step in personally, bring the leadership of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas to the United States and put all of that foreign policy acumen to work as an honest broker to establish a lasting solution based in peace — and justice.
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