Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Biden in the Knesset

The term “game changer” is easily bandied about these days. But every Israeli will agree that the term fits one historical (and historic) event: Anwar Sadat in the Knesset. For anyone living through the traumatic Yom Kippur War a mere four years earlier, witnessing their former mortal enemy giving a peace speech in Israel’s parliament was stupefying.

President Joe Biden today is the complete opposite of what President Sadat was back in 1973. Yet, a similar appearance in the Knesset could well be just as historic as Sadat’s visit. He seems to realize that, given his response this week to the question of whether he would speak in the Knesset – with, or seemingly without, PM Netanyahu’s explicit invitation (

There are several reasons for him to make such a bold move. First and foremost, the present Israeli government (aka Bibi Netanyahu trying to monopolize the country’s official stance) has been working overtime to vastly oversimplify President Biden’s post-Gaza peace process plan – as if Uncle Joe is calling for a Palestinian State in 2024. Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, Biden continues to support Israel’s mission to decimate Hamas, realizing full well that as long as this terrorist organization survives there is no hope for any peace process to succeed, given its dedication to killing all Jews “from the river to the sea.” The US administration’s demands regarding humanitarian aid to Gazans should not be conflated with any supposed “support” of Hamas – indeed, the Americans continue to agree that Israel (or any other trustworthy factor) should continue checking that all such aid be vetted to avoid any military-grade materiel from filtering through to Hamas fighters. The projected humanitarian aid “pier” to be built by the US Army at the Gazan shore has been planned to guarantee that goal.

Second, if and when Hamas is effectively neutralized (“total victory” by killing all 30,000 Hamas combatants is not possible, but eliminating its governing capability is surely doable), the next step is getting a technocratic administration to govern Gaza in the relatively long interim period of reconstruction and other steps (outlined below). This would probably entail some sort of international consortium, including EU military peacekeepers, Qatari or Saudi civilian policemen; Arab technocrats from friendly (to Israel) countries e.g., Egypt, Jordan etc.; as well as massive infrastructure investment in Gaza by the Emirates, Saudis, Europeans and the US. Such rebuilding would take a few years. If successful, it would seriously undermine any return of a militant government once elections were held. Having been burnt by Hamas corruption and self-interest – and a reconstructed society with a peaceful future – when elections are finally held in such a reconstructed Gaza it is most unlikely that two million citizens would want to go down that extremist route again. (Even before Oct. 7 there were signs of widespread Gazan dissatisfaction with Hamas rule.)

Third, Biden is demanding of the Palestinian Authority (in the West Bank) to “clean house”: change its educational textbooks by eliminating the numerous references to the hated Zionists (and even worse epithets); eliminate endemic corruption; and conduct free elections after all this is carried out. The (re)new(ed) PA would also have to accept complete demilitarization as a prerequisite for a peace treaty with Israel.

Once all this is done, then and only then would Israeli be required to make its own concessions – essentially giving up 80% of Judea & Samaria in which only about 20% of the settlers reside today. Israel would probably also have to “trade” part of unpopulated northern Negev land for the 20% of Judea & Samaria that would become an official part of (annexed to) Israel.

To be sure, there are other serious questions to be dealt with. The primary one: Palestinian refugees are clearly not returning to their former homes in Israel; but here too massive “reparations” can be paid – probably by America, Europe, and perhaps a symbolic sum by Israel too – to enable a smooth resettlement in Palestine and/or overseas countries, each volunteering to take in a limited number.

In short, the plan calls for serious, politically painful (but reasonable) concessions from both sides.

How would Biden get to the Knesset? Simple: by publicly inviting himself! His recent interview is a step in that direction. Would anyone in Israel dare to say “no” to the one person who supported Israel’s war in Gaza with massive aid (and still does)? Of course not. Would that run against diplomatic protocol? Absolutely yes – but not much different than when Bibi bypassed President Obama to speak in the US Congress back in 2015 (recall: Obama’s Vice President was Joe Biden – not something Joe would easily forget or forgive). Indeed, given how upset Biden is today with what he views as Netanyahu’s recalcitrance, this would be a golden opportunity to poke a large finger in Bibi’s eye, but with a positive purpose.

Such an appearance would also send a message to Americans: “I won’t abandon Israel, but it’s time for tough love to save the country from itself (or at least its present leadership).” Such a message would be addressed to Zionists and pro-Palestinians alike: “My policy ensures Israel’s future survival but also finally resolves the Palestinians’ plight.”

And then, after his Knesset speech, Joe would continue on to Ramallah – to give virtually the same speech there as well! If the Israeli government is distorting Biden’s peace plan, one can well imagine how it is being translated into Arabic by the equally obstinate Palestinian leadership. Both sides have to hear the message straight from the horse’s mouth; both sides have to understand that the President isn’t horsing around.

From the time of Abraham and Sarah, Judaism and Islam have always highly valued “hakhnasat orkhim” (guest hospitality) – whether the guests were invited or not. It’s time for the US president to exploit that hoary custom in order to save both sides from themselves.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) presently serves as Academic Head of the Communications Department at the Peres Academic Center (Rehovot). Previously, he taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published five books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see:
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