The obvious question at this time for supporters of Israel, of course, is: Where does Joe Biden stand regarding Israel and Jerusalem? And less obviously, but even more critically: Where do the people he surrounds himself with stand on these issues?
Regarding Israel in general, Biden is considered a good friend, as his Senate voting record shows. He once said, "My father pointed out to me that I did not need to be a Jew to be a Zionist, for I am. Israel is essential for security of Jews worldwide." (He then immediately added, however, "and a state of Palestine, each enjoying security, self-determination, and mutual recognition.")
Back in 2008, Biden said, "My support for Israel begins in my stomach, goes to my heart and ends up in my head."
More practical, however, is this: What about Jerusalem? For instance, now that President Trump has moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, will Biden move it back? As a US Senator, Biden himself voted in favor of the 1995 resolution authorizing the President to move the embassy - and allowing the President to postpone the move if he felt like it. Since then, every US leader except for Trump – Clinton, Bush, and Obama – in fact "chickened out" and did not move the embassy.
In April of this year, Biden said, “The embassy should not have been moved. [Rather, it should have happened] in the context of a larger deal to help us achieve important concessions for peace in the process.”
That is, according to President-elect Biden, the US should have kept the Jerusalem carrot hanging just out of Israel's reach for as long as possible, until America could squeeze out every possible Israeli concession.
However, "now that it [the embassy's relocation] is done," Biden said, "I would not move it back to Tel Aviv.”
"But he would re-open our consulate in East Jerusalem to engage the Palestinians," a Biden campaign spokesman said. "He would also return the U.S. to the effort of encouraging a two-state solution."
The word "return" in this context is key. It is important to recall that when Biden was Vice President under Barack Obama, their Administration promoted the creation of a Palestinian state in the heartland of Biblical Israel – and the division of Jerusalem into Israeli and Palestinian capitals. We must thus be wary that Biden will return to the same old failed advisors who will regurgitate the same old failed solutions that promote splitting Jerusalem in two.
Here are some of those who currently advise him, along with some of their credentials. Let the reader decide:
Tony Blinken served as Deputy National Security Advisor under Obama… Carlyn Reichel is a former speechwriter for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton… Colin Kahl, expected to be responsible for Iran policy, served as Deputy Assistant to President Obama… Daniel Shapiro was the U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, overseen by Secretary of State John Kerry…
Keep in mind that the division of Jerusalem would be catastrophic for Israel on many levels: Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish People for over 3,000 years – and never of any Arab or other entity. Conceding any portion thereof, especially its holiest sites, and dividing it would be a major moral and political blow for the Jewish State and Jewish People.
Furthermore, any concession in Jerusalem will invite pressure to concede on issues such as refugees and Judea/Samaria. And of course, placing parts of the holy city under Arab sovereignty would likely mean a return to the very difficult security situation the city experienced before 1967, which would lead, in turn, to large numbers of Jews leaving Jerusalem.
When then-VP Biden visited Israel in 2010, he and Obama were deeply "offended" when the Israeli government announced then the planned construction of 1,600 units in the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. Biden abruptly cut short his trip, and Obama demanded that Israel freeze all Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem (in addition to the ten-month freeze that Israel had already agreed to in Judea/Samaria). And in fact, these areas of Jerusalem saw no construction for nearly seven years, until President Trump took office. Ramat Shlomo is now blossoming with new homes, roads, and residents.
Our work at KeepJerusalem towards ensuring that Jerusalem remains united, secure and with a large Jewish majority, is always critical, regardless of who the US President is. But our strategy must now adapt to the unfortunate likelihood that a new Biden administration will continue the Obama policy of seeking to divide Jerusalem.
Now, during the ten-week transition period before Biden is set to take office, is the time to create irrevocable facts on the ground. As former Jerusalem City Council member Yair Gabbai wrote this week, two major construction projects practically ready for implementation must be carried out immediately. Between the two of them – Givat HaMatos, near Talpiyot, and Atarot, close to Jerusalem's northern tip – they will add over 12,000 new housing units. Their construction would drop housing prices in the city and impede the emigration of young couples to other cities. "It would also bring about historic justice," Gabbai continued, "in that the Palestinian dream of dividing Jerusalem would evaporate."
Thus, when we consider what Joe Biden means for the future of Jerusalem, we must be prepared for all eventualities, and again adapt our vital work in educating, advocating and lobbying for united and Jewish Jerusalem to the circumstances. Let us explore how to do so in our next column.