Netanyahu and Abbas Must Go

President Biden’s political future and, more important, America’s role in the world, depend in part on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remain in power.  For the sake of the people of the Middle East and American voters, Netanyahu and Abbas must go.

In the U.S. presidential election, Biden offers a networked America connected to long standing allies, including NATO, Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.  Together with its partners, the U.S. must confront adversaries seeking to disrupt the post World War II international order.  U.S. leadership is also key to solving the world’s big problems whether climate change or global economic disruption.

By contrast, former President Donald Trump is running a nativist campaign, which eschews traditional allies and embraces authoritarian leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.  Trump also intends to dismantle or severely compromise the institutions framing 80 years of U.S. global leadership including NATO and the broader Western alliance which rushed to support America immediately after the 9/11 attacks.  A Trump second term will be more isolationist and also more unpredictable for friends, foes, and markets.  None of this is in the American voters’ interest.

Here is why.

American power for the decades ahead requires Biden’s outward facing vision of U.S. leadership as opposed to Trump’s authoritarianism and America-first nationalism.  While there has always been an isolationist sentiment on both extremes of the political spectrum, U.S. global leadership has proved both resilient and beneficial to the American people.  For instance, the U.S. share of the global economy has remained steady, with the U.S. retaining more than 25% of the world’s GDP for the last 50 years.  With global universities, robust capital markets, and a uniquely entrepreneurial culture, the U.S. remains the destiny for talent and future-shaping investment.  Voters know that the future will be predominantly shaped by America, not China or Russia.

The failure of Netanyahu and Abbas to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a drag on the Middle East peace and prosperity.  For American voters, these two leaders undermine U.S. security and distract efforts to build a better world for the next generation.

Netanyahu and Abbas came to power through elections.  Both leaders are widely unpopular and broadly regarded as corrupt.  Any hope for a post-war Gaza requires not only the defeat of Hamas, but also a future without Netanyahu and Abbas.

Netanyahu, like Trump, has been indicted on multiple criminal charges, including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.  Thousands of Israelis organized large protests every week for nearly a year to oppose Netanyahu’s judicial reforms that would strip the court system  of its independence.  Finally, the Hamas attacks on October 7th occurred under Netanyahu’s watch.  In the ensuing four months, the Prime Minister failed to secure the release of more than 100 hostages, either through diplomacy or military operations.

Netanyahu avoids criminal prosecution and political irrelevance the longer the Gaza war continues.  He has no incentive to plan for the day after war.  Meanwhile, despite Biden’s bear-hug embrace of Israel post-October 7, Netanyahu’s differences with Biden toward the conduct of the war and the need for a post-war planning are growing by the day.

Biden has limited leverage to force a leadership change in Israel.  Given that Israel is a strong electoral democracy, pressure for new elections must come from the Israeli street.  Netanyahu and his coalition, who fear losing power if new elections are called, argue that elections are not feasible given Israel’s current war footing.  Yet, the reality is that democracies have conducted elections during or immediately after wars; witness elections in the U.S. during its civil war, in Britain two months after World War II, and in Israel itself, two months after the Yom Kippur War while much of the country’s military was still mobilized.

The Palestinian Authority’s President, 88-year-old Mahmoud Abbas must step aside as well.  Abbas, or Abu Mazen as he is known, is in his 18th year of a four-year presidential term and has been unable to deliver statehood, economic prosperity, or security for the Palestinian people in the West Bank.  In calling for a revitalization of Palestinian government institutions in the West Bank and Gaza, Biden has emphasized that more is required than just a change in leadership.  Here again, Biden cannot dictate precise reforms for the Palestinian Authority; rather, Palestinian society, with the support of its private sector, think tanks, and other civic activists, must set the reform agenda and establish a realistic timeline for elections.  Biden and the international community can assist by recognizing a Palestinian state, helping to reconstruct Gaza, and building infrastructure in the West Bank.

Without Netanyahu and Abbas, a trajectory toward resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict seems possible.  Sooner is better, not only for Palestinians, Israelis, and other countries in the region, but also to ensure the U.S. remains an engaged superpower and a force for stability in an otherwise fragile world.  In the Middle East, a functional Gaza and a pathway to a Palestinian state will deflate Hezbollah’s and Iranian nihilistic ambitions, while providing stability for the Gulf states.  Such a future, which would include normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, may be Israel’s best guarantee for security in the Middle East.  By brokering this deal, Biden will not only serve U.S. interests, but can improve his November electoral prospects by shoring up his progressive base and demonstrating his establishment bonafides with independents and Nikki Haley Republicans.

Biden and Trump offer two different visions of America and its place in the world.  The failure and dysfunction of both Netanyahu and Abbas reinforces Trump’s world view.  All three are bad for America.

R. David Harden (@Dave_Harden) is a former assistant administrator at USAID’s bureau for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance; a former USAID mission director to the West Bank and Gaza; and a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace.

Larry Garber, a former senior USAID policy official during the Clinton and Obama administrations, served as the USAID mission director to the West Bank and Gaza and as an election observer to Palestinian presidential, legislative and municipal elections.

About the Author
R. David Harden (@Dave_Harden) is a former assistant administrator at USAID’s bureau for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance; a former USAID mission director to the West Bank and Gaza; and a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace.
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