What Surprises Await Biden In Israel?

The Israeli government is touting tomorrow's visit by Vice President Joe Biden as an expression of the "strong relations" between the two countries.

This will be Biden's second trip to Israel since 2010 when he was blindsided by the announced of major settlement construction in annexed east Jerusalem at a time when the Obama administration was seeking a settlement freeze and trying to revive the peace process.

This time there's no peace process and no prospects for revival even in the land noted for resurrection.  There will be platitudes and pious expressions of hope, but nothing serious.  It is too late in the Obama administration to begin any new initiative, even if it were interested, and Israeli and Palestinian leaders would rather trade insults and accusations than engage in anything approaching serious negotiations.

But that doesn't mean there won't be another effort from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far right allies to embarrass the vice president and express their contempt for the Obama administration.

On that 2010 Biden visit, the Interior Ministry announced 1,600 new housing units just hours after the Veep landed, leading him to condemn the move as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.”

Netanyahu blamed Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.  The PM's office tried to shrug it off, explaining that the announcement had been a surprise to Netanyahu although the planning had been underway for three years.

Shas is back in charge of the Interior Ministry, now in the hands of Arye Deri, a convicted felon who spent time in prison for corruption during the last time he held that post.

Biden will begin this visit as the one six years ago, almost to the day, by declaring the Obama administration's “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.”

Biden has to be wondering whether he will be blindsided again.  This time Netanyahu has an even narrower and more far right coalition, and Shas and other pro-settler elements keep threatening to bring down the government unless their demands du jour are met. 

The failure – or refusal – of Netanyahu to take any action against Yishai and those responsible for humiliating the American vice president six years ago only increased Washington's distrust for the prime minister.  No one bought his lame excuse of coincidence.

Knesset Deputy Speaker Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu Likud party, called the Biden visit an insult.  "While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel, we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming," he told the Washington Post.  Netanyahu has since promoted Danon to ambassador to the United Nations.

What surprises await Joe Biden on his return to Israel?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.