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When Bibi Meets Biden

Is the purpose of the vice president's trip to Israel to undermine that country's prime minister?

by
Allison Kaplan Sommer

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March 8, 2010 - 12:03 am
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As Joe Biden’s plane fueled up to head in the direction of the Middle East for today’s arrival, even the most optimistic of Israelis were viewing the U.S. vice president’s trip to Israel with skepticism — and the more pessimistic anticipated his mission with outright suspicion.

Publicly, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu waxed enthusiastic and “praised” the upcoming visit by his “personal friend of 30 years,” even as a “senior diplomatic official” (presumed to be either Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman or Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon) was quoted as angrily asking why Israel must settle for second best. President Obama, the official pointed out, seems to have no trouble showing up in person to woo Arab countries — and yet he keeps his distance from Israel.

“If the president speaks to one side, why do you send the No. 2 to speak to us? He can’t give a speech in Cairo to the Arabs, and suffice with speaking to us through videos.”

The answer isn’t complicated. In the Obama playbook, countries that are hostile to the U.S. deserve a charm offensive. Allies like Israel can be taken for granted. But to be fair, even the most supportive presidents have rarely graced Israel with their presence, unless there was a significant diplomatic achievement to take pride in. And at this moment in time, diplomatic progress has never seemed further from sight.

And so, with the possible exception of Netanyahu, Israelis weren’t exactly waiting for Biden’s arrival with bated breath. On Sunday’s news programs, news of preparations for his visit followed stories of multiple car accidents, coverage of crimes, and long discussions of the chances of Israel’s entry Ajami to win the Academy Award for best foreign-language film (with the mini-scandal that accompanied the entry after one of the directors, an Israeli Arab, declared that his “film shouldn’t represent Israel because Israel doesn’t represent me”).

When the hosts of the morning news shows finally got around to talking about U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s meeting on Saturday night with Defense Minister Ehud Barak to prepare the ground for the Biden arrival, they rolled their eyes and exclaimed, “Déjà vu!” Indeed, it seems as if Mitchell has been dropping in on a weekly basis as the latest Sisyphus of the peace process. His comings and goings have become part of the landscape.

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