Biden’s Middle East trip is an opportunity for a much-needed reset

President Biden
Associated Press/Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden motions while boarding Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport after attending the Summit of the Americas, Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Los Angeles.

President Joseph R. Biden’s July visit to the Middle East will be a milestone in American diplomacy for years to come.

The Middle East is an important geopolitical region. The United States should maintain meaningful military, diplomatic and economic engagement in the region.

Today, Arab leaders see themselves as peers, not pupils, of the West. They expect respect and recognition of their cultural heritage and of their many efforts to forge ties to the West, everything from sending their children to Stanford and Harvard to countless cross-border partnerships and investments.

But, Arab leaders are unhappy with the Biden administration for its ongoing negotiations with the threatening regime in Iran, and its laxity in the face of the Yemen-based Houthi terrorist and rocket attacks. For the first time, Arab leaders are asking questions, publicly, about the sustainability of the American political system and the coherence of American foreign policy.

Biden should reverse course and attempt to preserve U.S. influence in this geopolitically important region.

President Biden’s visit presents a chance to renew the relationship. To succeed, the president should focus on three essentials: promoting peace, trade, and security.

To make a lasting peace between Arabs and Israelis, President Biden must build on the Abraham Accords to expand the security and trade aspects.

The Biden administration should work to integrate Arab and Israeli air defenses into a single dome to shield against Iran’s missiles and drones. If coordinated by the U.S. military, with some expertise from the Israel Defense Force (which has a long track record of knocking Iran’s missiles out of the sky), this new mutual defense accord would reduce risk and fear while uniting the region. In time, in the Arab world, Israel would be seen as just another neighbor — the way that former European enemies now see themselves as NATO allies.

Next, trade. The U.S., Israel, and the Gulf states have signed a welter of free-trade pacts over the past decade. Now is the time to extend and simplify those free trade agreements. A single free-trade zone would strengthen people-to-people contacts, boost cross-border investment and promote peace.

Already tourism between Israel and the UAE is setting historic records, while tourism between Israel and Morocco and Bahrain is climbing rapidly. Sports teams are now crossing national and cultural barriers to share a love of the game. Religious pilgrims are traveling to experience the artifacts of culture and history. Soon investors will follow. Imagine extending cross-cultural benefits across the entire region.

Shared prosperity fosters hope and changes minds. As young Arabs find work and come to see the fruits of cooperating with Israelis and others, a different, more beneficial perspective will naturally emerge.

Jared Kushner’s innovative peace plan shows the power of the new rising generation, both in America and in the Middle East. The historic Abraham Accords were the result.

Once Israel is seen as a contributor to the regional order, a new approach regarding Hamas will become possible. Both Arabs and Israelis could work together to pray away the monetary and cultural incentives for Palestinians to join extremist groups.

Israel’s Defense Minister Gantz has a deep understanding of the Palestinians and will be able to conduct serious negotiations. President Biden must not only encourage this but pressure the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to honor the ceasefire and resume the dialogue.

At the same time, Israel’s Prime Minister Bennet could relaunch diplomatic talks with the Palestinian Authority with the support of Turkey, Egypt and the Gulf States and Morocco.

Rather than choosing between the Palestinian issue and its regional policy, the U.S. government would use its new partnerships to improve conditions in Gaza and the West Bank.

Biden’s visit to Israel is very important and must send a strong message. It would be a mistake for the American president not to give a speech before the Knesset as many of his predecessors have done. A speech before the region’s largest elected body always commands attention — attention that can be used to lay out a new vision based on shared security and shared prosperity.

The dynamics of normalization induced by the Abraham Accords could finally lead the Jewish state to fully coexist with its Arab neighbors across every dimension: culture, science, health, sports, business, military, religion and diplomacy. It is in the interests of Israel and the United States to achieve this integration.

Besides, the Middle East is home to the world’s fastest-growing economies and much of the world’s energy production. It simply cannot be ignored. Besides, the opportunity for change is too large to overlook.

Washington and Moscow vied for influence, but then Washington undercut Soviet economic influence and ousted Moscow from the region with the Camp David Accords in 1978.  A similar bold move could help to prevent America’s great-power enemies from penetrating the region today.

Biden’s upcoming visit presents perhaps the greatest opportunity of his presidency to make a positive and historic achievement. He should take it.

Ahmed Charai is a publisher of The Jerusalem Strategic Tribune. He’s on the board of directors for the Atlantic Council, a board of Trustees for The International Crisis Group in Washington. 

Tags Abraham Accords Israeli–Palestinian peace process Jared Kushner Joe Biden Politics of the Middle East Politics of the United States Saudi Arabia–United States relations

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