Biden: a Warm-up for Obama?

Biden: a Warm-up for Obama?

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Vice President Joe Biden’s forthcoming trip to Israel on Tuesday is highly unlikely to provide any serious breakthroughs. The hope also is that none of the anti-Obama Israeli politicians—even some members of Netanyahu’s Government do not seize the opportunity of this visit to try to score domestic political points and slap Biden in the face as they did in 2010. Presumably, the U.S. has serious issues to discuss with Jordan and the UAE concerning ISIS, refugees, and radical terrorists, oil production, and possible military assistance, but it was not an opportune time for the Vice-President to make a trip to the region without a stop in Israel—and with the Palestinians. As Obama has never lived down his failure to visit Israel after his Cairo speech in June 2009, from the U.S. perspective there was no interest in causing any diplomatic/political sparks to fly in either part of the Jewish world.  

The Biden trip, at least the Israel portion, will serve a number of purposes for the Administration. First, given the fact that Obama—just as he is leaving for Cuba–may not have much time for Netanyahu when he comes to the U.S., Biden’s visit hopefully will insure that Bibi will not arrive in Washington and once again ruffle any feathers.

Second, the major U.S.-Israel issue on the table, other than hand holding, concerns the character and size of the U.S. military aid to Israel as projected for the next ten years. As the current $3 billion annual aid package is schedule to end in 2018, Israel had asked for an increase to an annual $5 billion package with the U.S. reportedly countering at $3.7 billion. As Obama would like this package finalized before he leaves office, this Biden visit undoubtedly may signal to the Israelis just how far the President may be ready to go.

In all likelihood Bibi hopes that while he attends the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, Obama will entertain a final productive oval office visit, before Obama leaves office. Certainly Washington does not want the American Jewish community aroused as they have been during several previous Bibi White House visits during the Obama years.  

The money gap between Bibi and Obama is a final test of wills between these two strong-willed personalities. Will Bibi find a way to swallow his pride and find an accommodation with the President or will he stand pat on his threat to wait for the next president to finish the negotiations? Similarly, will Obama create enough movement and wiggle-room for Israel that while the aid number may be raised, the President will not have capitulated to Netanyahu. Regardless of the strategic, diplomatic and budgetary reasons, the White House also does not want to throw the U.S.-Israel relationship into the political mix again during this fall’s presidential campaign.

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