Biden’s lifelong support for Israel: Compatibility to American Strategic Interests in the Middle East
LR- Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden, Secretary of state Antony Binken, October 10, 2023 (White House)

Scott Abramson and Ken Stein, Center for Israel Education 

Common political, emotional and strategic threads are present in President Joe Biden’s speeches and comments about the brutal reality of the Hamas attacks on Israel and his iron-clad support for Israel as a state, its people and national security, including his support for Israel to eradicate the ‘evil’ indicative of Hamas’s actions that killed, raped, brutalized, burnt 1200 people, and intentionally kidnapped 239 others.  Biden’s administration saw the Hamas attack on Israel as more than a conflict of local ideology or control of territory, it saw Hamas’s action as both an action in the Palestinian-Israeli theater, but also as a venture by Iran as the heart of anti-Americanism and anti-Arab moderation exercised by American allies including Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. As a Senator, then Vice-President, and President with three decades of experience in foreign affairs, Biden comprehended the history of Iranian mischief making in the region including its quest for nuclear military capability as well as having identified with Israel’s security from his formative years before he entered the Senate in January 1973. Biden articulated many times his support for Israel in the Senate and in public comments. 

One of his most vivid presentations of  Israel’s security needs and the Palestinian-Israeli relationship emerged in prepared testimony he gave before the Senate Foreign Relations committee in March 2006.  As Vice-President from 2008-2016, and since October 7, 2023, his conclusions have been decisively encompassing. The purpose of this essay is to show the depth and breadth of his understanding of Israel and the region assembled from only a few of his  public statements, which nonetheless underly his essential and consistent concepts in policy preferences on Israeli-Palestinian matters. Before coming to the presidency and since his  foreign policy team have repeatedly advocated for a two-state solution to the conflict. These selected remarks are reflective of Biden’s conceptual priorities for Israel and America’s strategic role in the Middle East; they can be combined and accelerated forward to understand Biden’s pathway forward as might be applied to procedural and substantive conclusions when the Hamas-Israel War winds down. Biden’s previously held strong viewpoints on a great many specifics will most likely shape American policy preferences arrangements and formats for both the Israel-Palestinian- Gaza Strip future. In addition, his administration will likely implement policies that will continue to contain nefarious Iranian sponsored allies and insurgencies.

Scott Abramson and Ken Stein, February 13, 2024

Biden in 2006

In 2006 forward, Biden emphatically stated his abhorrence with Hamas’s terrorism. “Simply put, Hamas must choose between bullets and ballots, between destructive terror and constructive governance. It cannot have it both ways. At the same time, we must not punish ordinary Palestinians for the sins of Hamas. I believe we should redouble our commitment to their welfare.”Suggesting a consortium of European countries and Arab Gulf states be assembled to provide support for the Palestinian people, Biden pleaded intently for reform in governance from the Ramallah based Palestinian Authority; Biden castigated  the corrupt leadership of Yasir Arafat.  And he restated his life-long personal and professional commitment to Israel’s national security, noting in a May 2012 speech to a group of rabbis gathered in Atlanta that  Biden emphatically stated in Atlanta to an assembly of rabbis in May 2012, “were I an Israeli, were I a Jew, I would not contract out my security to anybody, even to a loyal, loyal friend like the United States. Before the October 7 attack and since, when President Biden or members of his national security team Austin, Blinken, Sullivan haves spoken about possible Palestinian- Israeli negotiations such as venturing toward a two-state solution to this part of the conflict, each has reaffirmed an ‘iron-clad’ US commitment to Israel’s security.

In those remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations committee on March 15, 2006, “I was in the West Bank as an official observer during the Palestinian legislative elections. The election results were sobering for all of us. The prospect of Hamas assuming power seems surreal. How did Hamas win? In a nutshell, be- cause Fatah and the Palestinian Authority didn’t deliver. The outcome mostly reflects anger and frustration over corruption, mismanagement, and a breakdown of law and order. But I think that we and the international community must accept some responsibility as well.”

“After Yasir Arafat’s death, I repeatedly urged that we act with a sense of urgency to help President Abbas clean up the mess he inherited. The Chairman and I wrote two letters to President Bush in May and July 2005 urging rapid assistance to the Palestinians. Here’s what we said in one of those letters: “. . . if the Palestinians do not see immediate, tangible improvements in their daily lives, then Hamas could gain credibility and support at the expense of President Abbas.”

“Instead of moving urgently, we dithered. It wasn’t until November (2006) that Secretary Rice got directly involved by brokering a breakthrough agreement on Gaza. That was welcome, but it was too little, too late. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but it’s important that we try to learn from it. The question today is how do we respond to the Hamas (electoral victory in 2005)? “

“Obviously, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a party that seeks its destruction and engages in terrorism. It seems to me the so-called Quartet-the U.S., the E.U., Russia and the U.N.-has it just right: The next Palestinian government must recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept past agreements. That’s why I joined Senator McConnell in introducing legislation prohibiting aid to a Hamas government until it meets those conditions. At the same time, we’ve made important exceptions for the basic needs of the Palestinian people and the office of President Abbas. I believe we should urge other countries to adhere to the Quartet position. In particular, we need to press the Arab Gulf States not to rush in and financially support Hamas. That would take the pressure off. “

“Does Hamas want to continue as a radical terrorist organization? Or will it respond to the Palestinian public which wants reform, but doesn’t want isolation, poverty, and extremism. Simply put, Hamas must choose between bullets and ballots, between destructive terror and constructive governance. It cannot have it both ways. At the same time, we must not punish ordinary Palestinians for the sins of Hamas. I believe we should redouble our commitment to their welfare. We may need to look at new ways of delivering aid. That may require new coalitions from the private sector, NGOs, and international organizations.” 

Since the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7, 2023, Biden made five major speeches while giving intermittent answers on the Hamas-Israel War at other opportunities.  Notably, within the 

first six hours of the attack Biden unequivocally condemned Hamas’s brutality,  and during his 24-hour solidarity visit to Israel, he reminded Israelis that “you are not alone” and that the United States “stands with Israel.” Immediately after the attack he branded Hamas’s actions as  “pure unadulterated evil.” In a further reassurance that Israel need not feel isolated and helpless, he turned to history to console Israel in mourning. He explained that although the pogrom of October 7 was the deadliest attack against Jews since the Holocaust, the United States today, unlike in the 1940s, will not abandon the Jewish people: “The world watched then, it knew, and the world did nothing. We will not stand by and do nothing again. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”  Words have turned into action by his administration; from Hamas’s genocide, the president immediately harnessed American power, rhetorically, militarily, and politically.  He warned hostile actors in the region not to test American resolve, twice giving them the very same words of caution: “Don’t. Don’t,”  to deter Israel’s enemies from opening new fronts. Nonetheless, Iran’s proxies and insurgencies in the Middle East, attacked Americans in Syria, Iraq, and along the Red Sea coast of Yemen.  To enforce this threat, he noted his deployment of two aircraft-carrier strike groups to the Middle East, both of which were engaged in protecting American interests when attacked by Iranian proxies from Iraq to Yemen.

Biden and his national security team saw the hamas attack as a foray coming from Iran to destabilize the region with its oil resources and its geostrategic importance for international trade through the Suez Canal, through the Red Sea and beyond.  . Not incidentally, Biden in other remarks enthusiastically supported all efforts to advance and deliver humanitarian aid to the thousands of civilians in Gaza.

Finally, Biden juxtaposed his own personal bereavement on the loss of family members commiserating with Israelis mourning losses. He noted clearly, that “you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist”) and, in three speeches, he shares the very same reminiscence about meeting Golda Meir. His remarks drew praised form former Israeli ambassador to America, Michael Oren, hailed President Biden’s October 10 address as the “most passionately pro-Israel [presidential speech] in history.” And he received applause from Donald Trump’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, for using the bully pulpit in support of Israel.

Scot Abramson and Ken Stein, January 3, 2024