Biden’s Recent Middle East Trip: Long on Controversy, Short on Accomplishments

Interview with David Yaghoubian, professor of history at California State University, conducted by Scott Harris

President Biden just returned from his first trip to the Middle East, where he visited Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and attended the summit meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council that included his Saudi hosts and leaders from Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. While in Israel, Biden reaffirmed U.S. commitments to Israeli security and spoke of his hope for a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran in reviving the international nuclear deal with Tehran that Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in 2018.

When Biden met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he pledged $100 million in additional aid to hospitals that serve Palestinians in Jerusalem, but made no public criticisms of Israeli settlements that violate international law and failed to call for accountability for the murder of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

While meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, Biden offered a fist bump, a gesture roundly condemned, as it stood in stark contrast to his campaign pledge to make the Saudi leader a pariah for his presumed authorization of the assassination of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other gross human rights violations. Biden also failed to make any progress ending U.S. collaboration with the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has killed more than 370,000 Yemeni men, woman and children. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with David Yaghoubian, professor of history at California State University, San Bernardino. Here, he takes a critical look at Biden’s recent Middle East trip, which was long on controversy and short on accomplishments.

DAVID YAGHOUBIAN: In terms of Biden in Israel and the West Bank — unfortunately, his statements on the ground, his interactions with (President of the State of Palestine) Mahmoud Abbas, as well as with Yair Lapid, (Israel’s) caretaker prime minister, essentially repeat the pattern that Democratic administrations have engaged in over the years, which is essentially to pay lip service to the concept of a two-state solution and to offer platitudes regarding the importance of, you know, a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, as Biden did in his speech with Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.

But unfortunately, there is really no difference when it comes to the most important issue, which is bringing an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in either producing a two-state or a one-state solution. The Biden administration simply did not offer anything specific in this regard on this trip.

And in fact, unfortunately, whereas the Biden administration does seem to be more willing to support some Palestinian institutions to fund the United Nations Relief Works Agency, which provides humanitarian aid — and, of course, you know, this is is still better than the complete snub that Palestinians received from the Trump administration.

But, it could be argued that these moves simply just prolong the suffering and prolong the pain, because supporting as Biden has pledged to the UNRWA with $200 million, providing $100 million of aid to support the East Jerusalem area Palestinian Hospital Network, you know, I don’t want to say that this isn’t still positive and you know better than what we saw under the Trump administration. But nevertheless, again, this just does nothing to advance the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and really just prolongs the agony and the conflict.

SCOTT HARRIS: Professor Yaghoubian, I did want to ask you about Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia. In many people’s view, he betrayed his campaign promise to shun Mohammed bin Salman, the leader of Saudi Arabia, for his gross human rights abuses, as well as the murder of U.S. columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Do we know of anything that Biden got in return for you know his humiliation for what many people think was his public humiliation on going back on his promises.

DAVID YAGHOUBIAN: In terms of a specific takeaway that Biden received from his visit to Saudi Arabia, there does not seem to be anything concrete that was agreed to. Most observers considered the trip to basically be revolving around Biden’s interest in trying to motivate the Saudis to produce more oil to lower increasing oil prices. But the Saudis made no such promise or agreement.

And as far as I can tell, no one is reporting so far that there was a specific, explicit conversation in this regard. Biden also as part of his agenda, that sort of bridges the Israel visit, as well as the visit to Jeddah and Saudi Arabia was also interested in advancing the so-called normalization process between Gulf Arab nations and Israel, and in that context, creating an anti-Iran defensive alliance, specifically including Israeli technology, American bases and an interlocking series of aerial defenses that Gulf Arab member states, those that join in ostensibly with the Abraham Accords, would be able to take advantage of.

So this was something that Biden was pushing as much as he could to try to warn the GCC+3 (Gulf Cooperation Council representing Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates +3: Egypt, Iraq and Jordan)  that he spoke to in Jeddah against forging strong ties economic, military with China. But again, we’ll have to see what the decisions are going forward by GCC+3 members in relation to this ask by Biden because for example, Saudi Arabia had stated its interest in supplying China with oil in exchange for yuan, not dollars.

This is something, even though it wasn’t covered heavily in American mainstream media, is critically important to the viability of the dollar and its global reserve currency status. Therefore, this is something certainly that was one of Biden’s asks. Yet, it remains to be seen whether or not the Saudis will respond positively to this request.

David Yaghoubian is also author of “Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East.”

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with David Yaghoubian (27:45) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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