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Israelis' Worries Center on Biden's Plans to Negotiate with Iran

AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File

There’s no question about who Israel’s majority Jewish population was rooting for on November 3. A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found 70 percent of Jewish Israelis supporting Trump, 13 percent preferring Biden, and 17 percent who didn’t know. Strikingly, with respondents defining themselves as right-wing, centrist, or left-wing, half of the left-wingers came out in favor of Trump.

Israelis, in other words, are well aware of the remarkable record Trump racked up in four years as history’s most pro-Israel president, which included: moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; defunding the Palestinian Authority until it behaves decently and constructively; coming up with a realistic peace plan in which Israel retains indispensable parts of the West Bank; brokering peace deals with three Arab states; and — not least — treating Israel as the U.S. treats its other allies instead of constantly berating it publicly.

Most probably, though, those days are gone, and speculations now center on what to expect from a Biden presidency — particularly regarding the Palestinians and Iran. On the Palestinian track, Biden is likely, unfortunately, to throw out Trump’s peace plan and return to the “Clinton parameters” or worse, in which Israel gives up virtually all of the West Bank and turns Jerusalem into a divided, warring city. Even so, with domestic issues on his plate like COVID-19 and an economy striving to recover from the pandemic, many believe Biden won’t replicate Barack Obama’s obsession with the stubborn, self-pitying Palestinians — who have proved unamenable to peacemakers since the late 1930s.

The much more pressing issue is Iran — which, even as it reels from U.S. sanctions and COVID-19, keeps up its nuclear and ballistic-missile development, regional subversion, and specifically its efforts to build up a military presence across the border from Israel in Syria.

Here the focus is on Biden’s plans regarding the JCPOA, Obama’s gravely flawed nuclear deal with Iran that allowed it to keep developing its conventional and nonconventional weapons, pumped it up with cash for those and other ends like sponsoring terrorism, and gave it the crowning prize of a ten-year sunset clause.

Yoav Limor, a military-affairs analyst for one of Israel’s two most popular dailies, Israel Hayom, notes that Biden has “gone on record saying his administration will strive to reenter the nuclear deal with Iran,” and that the concern in Israel is that “a Biden administration would agree to far more lenient terms than a Trump administration would have.” A “senior official,” Limor says, warns that any such revamped but toothless deal “would allow Iran to move forward with its nuclear aspirations [and] export terrorism to the Middle East.”

Alex Fishman, also a military-affairs analyst but for the other of the two most popular Israeli dailies, Yediot Aharonot, gives the impression of having inside dope, claiming that recent “unofficial meetings” between U.S. and Israeli teams have “made it clear that [Biden’s] administration is working on a reworked outline for negotiations with Iran, a top priority for his incoming presidency.”

The U.S. team’s “strategy,” Fishman says, “involves a two-phase negotiation with the Iranians.” The first phase is supposed to last up to Iran’s presidential elections in June, and “the main objective during this phase is to reach an understanding with Tehran to freeze its ballistic missile development, end interventionist actions in the Middle East and halt its nuclear military activity.”

After a new Iranian president is elected,

the US will begin talks focusing on nuclear and regional issues with the intention of correcting any weaknesses in the 2015 agreement.

During this second phase, which could last a long time, the sanctions will remain in place.

It sounds reassuring — but also pie-in-the-sky. Although Iran is indeed hard hit by the sanctions, the vision of it meekly renouncing all its pernicious pursuits in a few months and then patiently waiting — even as the sanctions keep grinding it down — to work out a more reasonable, benign deal smacks of inexperience and misunderstanding of the ayatollahs’ ideology-driven ambitions to remake the Middle East in their image.

What is not in doubt is that — with Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu reputed to have a longstanding friendship and good chemistry between them — Israel will be talking intensively with the new administration and trying to school it in the realities of a region Israel understands well because it has had to contend with it and survive in it for seventy years. With Biden’s old boss, Obama, that attempt proved futile. The hope is that Biden himself is less rigid and less blinded by far-left premises about the world.

P. David Hornik, a longtime American immigrant in Israel, is a freelance writer, translator, and copyeditor living in Beersheva. In addition to PJ Media his work has appeared in National Review, American Spectator, Frontpage Magazine, New English Review, American Thinker, The Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, and elsewhere. Among his books are Choosing Life in Israel and, newly released by Adelaide Books,  the novel And Both Shall Row.