Biden’s Israel policy may hasten Trump’s rise, US allies fear

Filed under: All News,more news,RECENT POSTS |

FASANO, Italy — President Joe Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza has caused him no shortage of political troubles back home. And the rest of the world is noticing.

Joe Biden leaves a room with Israeli and U.S. flags behind him. Diplomats and world leaders have begun to worry that President Joe Biden’s reluctance to more fully break with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could cost him the election in November. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Diplomats and world leaders — many of whom are gathering for the G7 summit here this week — have begun to worry that Biden’s reluctance to more fully break with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could cost him the election in November.

Their concerns, which were relayed by five foreign policy experts and former U.S. government officials in touch with foreign officials, have been conveyed largely behind closed doors, out of consideration not to wade too far into U.S. domestic politics. But the thrust is often the same: The war has furthered the perception that the world is peppered with a variety of out-of-control hot spots and, in turn, made Biden look weak among voters back home.

They fear that it may usher in former President Donald Trump and rupture the broader diplomatic harmony Biden has worked to establish.

“The level of concern is something between panic and terror,” said Jeremy Shapiro, a former Obama State Department official in touch with European diplomats. “The alliance is too important for these countries right now.”

The war in Gaza is not expected to be the main topic of conversation during the conference here in Italy. But it will, to a degree, cloud the proceedings. That’s because while the world leaders are fairly aligned on some of the other major issues of the day — the need to back Ukraine, confront Russia and level-set with China — there are small but important fissures in the approach to Israel.

Biden and his aides have largely defended the Israeli offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza. And though the president has grown more critical of Netanyahu over time and tried to draw red lines around a potential invasion of the Gazan city of Rafah, his team has also at times blocked efforts within the United Nations to call for a quick end to the war. In Europe, meanwhile, support for Israel has fractured, with some nations going as far as to anger Israel by recognizing a Palestinian state.

Biden aides have tried to downplay his isolation on the matter by noting, among other things, his current efforts to push forward a peace framework to bring an end to the conflict. And, indeed, much of Europe has publicly backed the U.S.’s efforts to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, viewing it as critical to helping stabilize the region.

In the run-up to the G7, the U.S. scored an early win in convincing the group’s leaders to sign onto a statement endorsing a proposal that would halt the fighting and eventually lead to the release of the hostages held by Hamas. The group’s support came after Biden opted to go public with a cease-fire offer submitted by Israel, in an effort to demonstrate there remained a realistic path toward halting the fighting.

“All the G7 leaders that we have been consulting with in the run-up to Italy are focused on one thing overall: getting a cease-fire in place and getting the hostages home,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday. “That is what is going to end the suffering.”

A senior administration official cast the process of getting the G7 on board with the cease-fire proposal as fairly painless. European officials, meanwhile, say they’re more vexed that Netanyahu hasn’t publicly supported the proposal, even though the U.S. says he privately agreed to it.

“We’re not frustrated with the Americans,” one Western European official said. “We’re more frustrated with Netanyahu’s government. We are supportive of the U.S. efforts in pushing for the truce.”

But for all the global bonhomie, Biden remains well apart from his peers in how deeply he’s entangled himself in the war. Some of those peers are beginning to fret that it could cost him his job, as Heather Conley, a former State Department official, put it.

Conley added that the current European concerns and frustrations over Biden’s incremental approach in pressuring Israel to wind down the war must be placed in a larger context that includes Ukraine. It is the absence of more assertive action, she argued, that is causing the political problems.

“Some are starting now to question whether the United States is willing to take some decisive leadership,” said Conley, now president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Biden has for months resisted pressure to distance himself from Israel’s leadership, calculating that staying close to Netanyahu gives the U.S. its best shot at shaping the war and securing a cease-fire. The president also harbors his own personal belief in the special relationship between Israel and America, close allies said, a principle that underpins his commitment to the war even amid a deepening irritation with Netanyahu himself.

Still, Biden’s pursuit of a cease-fire deal has so far come up empty, damaging his domestic support in the process with voters who are increasingly turned off by the images coming out of Gaza.

In recent polls, most voters say they disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war. Democrats also worry the conflict is denting the president’s support among younger voters and minorities — critical parts of the base he needs to turn out in November.

Biden allies in the U.S., as well as diplomats abroad, now increasingly see a cease-fire in the Middle East as necessary to paving a way toward a permanent end to the war and to helping stave off a Trump win that threatens to upend relations with allies worldwide.

“We really want it to succeed,” one senior European official said of the U.S.’s push for a deal.Biden officials have dismissed concerns about the impact of the war on the president’s candidacy, pointing to polling showing that it doesn’t rank among voters’ top priorities ahead of the election. They have also long contended that Biden’s political strength is continually underestimated, both in the U.S. and Europe.

But the situation is one that G7 leaders are closely tracking even as they juggle a raft of other issues in Italy. Biden earlier this week dispatched Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Middle East, in what many officials hoped was a sign of intensifying cease-fire talks.

And as the president readied to leave Washington, his administration said Hamas had responded to Israel’s proposal with a counteroffer of its own. The White House is evaluating that response, Sullivan said, though he cautioned that some of Hamas’ terms differ significantly from what Israel requested.

Still, it means that Biden is sure to be pressed on the evolving talks by leaders at the G7, at the same time he is trying to navigate a delicate stage of negotiations that could bring peace to the Middle East — or turn into the latest setback for his ambitions in the region.

“They’re hoping and praying for a cease-fire deal,” Charles Kupchan, a former Obama-era senior National Security Council official, said of both the U.S. and its allies. “But outside powers only have so much influence over Israel and Hamas, as we’ve learned the last few months.”

Cancryn reported from Fasano. Nahal Toosi reported from Washington.