As a rabbi, my political activism has always been based in principle, not a blind devotion to a particular political party. And while my activism spans many directions, Israel has a special place in my soul.
I have worked with elected officials — from both parties — to ensure that Israel remains safe and secure while simultaneously striving for peace with her neighbors. Now, I am excited and encouraged to continue fighting for safety, security and peace, with President-elect Joe Biden.
While the hope for a broader peace in the region was sparked recently by the U.S.-initiated Abraham Accords, peace with the Palestinians remains elusive and Iran remains a mortal foe.
The 1993 Oslo Accords was the high-water mark of Israeli-Palestinian relations. As part of the accords, brokered with the help of the Clinton administration, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized the State of Israel and the State of Israel recognized the PLO as representative of all Palestinians. Oslo led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, and a commitment not only to partner in working toward peace, but towards self-governance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
But then the world changed. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli right-wing extremist and hopes for peace were dashed.
Since then, the world has changed even further: the Second Intifada, September 11th, the Second Gulf War, Israeli disengagement from Gaza, the Second Lebanon War, the election of President Obama, the Arab Spring, the rise (and perhaps fall) of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, the nuclear deal with Iran, the election of President Trump — and so much more.
On the cusp of 2021, we ask: What can the Biden administration do to help achieve a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians? How can Biden curb Iran’s nefarious behavior and use the leverage brought about through sanctions to reach a deal that verifiably ends their nuclear ambitions?
Biden’s strategy should ensure that U.S. support for Israel is airtight, and Israel understands that she can take risks for peace knowing that her strongest ally has her back. Israel and America are like family. There will be disagreements on policy, no matter which party or president holds power. But, it is my hope, that when they disagree, they do so in private, working collaboratively to resolve differences and find a common path forward.
Biden should support a bilaterally negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. We’ve seen the potential for remarkable people-to-people partnerships when the Arab world embraces Israel. Perhaps on the surface, most challenging is whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas are true partners for peace. They are certainly not cut from the same cloth as willing parties like Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, brokering peace between Israel and Egypt.
Netanyahu has agreed to negotiate but has recently played to his extremist supporters. Palestinian leadership, led by Abbas, has refused to negotiate with Israel since 2014. Such extremism and rejectionism, on both sides, hurts the Palestinian people and denies them the opportunity of a better future. It furthers the existential threat for Israel of perpetual struggle and perpetual war.
Still, while achieving peace with the Palestinians remains a critical goal, there is no larger threat to Israel’s existence than Iran. It is critical for Biden to fully understand Iran’s malign behavior and regional aggression.
Were the Biden Administration to work with Israel and the Palestinians on recognizing that they have a common adversary and can work together to thwart such tyranny and terror, this could be another implicit olive branch.
Iran’s behavior after entering the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — dashed the hopes of those believing that the nuclear agreement would help moderate the Iranian regime. In fact, in the three years that the United States and Iran were both party to the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic and its allies fomented terror around the world, armed and equipped terrorist groups throughout the Middle East, and took American service members hostage.
While one can debate whether Iran adhered to the temporary nuclear restrictions mandated by the JCPOA, there is no doubt that Iran accelerated its aggressive behavior in other arenas not covered by the nuclear agreement. Such a bad actor inflames the tensions of the region. And, as such, Biden can achieve a lasting impact in the region writ-large working towards a comprehensive deal that not only addresses nuclear issues, but also regional aggression and ballistic missiles.
The Biden Administration should play into the burgeoning pro-American alliance in the region. It should continue to support Defense (as opposed to offense) initiatives, like operations to uncover terrorist tunnels dug beneath neighborhoods in Lebanon under the border into Israel, designed to carry out attacks against Israelis — harming Palestinians along the way. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress allocated $177.5 million for US-Israel cooperation on technologies that detect and destroy these tunnels and those dug from Gaza.
This is what is possible when the United States and Israel work together. So much more could and would be true when peace flowed steadily between the state of Israel and a future state of Palestine. And this is precisely why I am excited to continue that work with the Biden administration.
Biden comes to office at an important moment. He has the opportunity to rouse the international community to put lasting, strict and significant restrictions on Iran’s attempts to develop a nuclear weapons capability and to constrain Tehran’s malicious and destabilizing activities in the Middle East and around the world. At the same time, the Biden team can build on the Abraham Accords to bring more of Israel’s neighbors — including the Palestinians — into peaceful relations with America’s most dependable ally in the region.
Though the process may be slow, the opportunity is ripe for level-headed diplomacy, leadership and experience. This is what we need from Biden — from day one.