Ahead of President Biden’s visit to Israel and the Middle East, we caught up with Chanan Weissman, White House liaison to the American Jewish community, to ask about the president’s thinking on Israel, the issue of settlements and the Abraham Accords.
Chanan was on the plane to Israel while he answered our questions, and a transcript of our conversation is below. (Editor’s note: Chanan is the brother of our executive vice president Noam Weissman.)
Unpacked: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions while you’re on the plane! To start, can you tell us what the purpose and goals are of the president’s trip?
Chanan: Happy to chat with you! To start, it’s important to underscore how uniquely aware and attuned President Biden is to the critical importance of the U.S.-Israel partnership. On the trip, the president will emphasize the unbreakable nature of our ties, which began in 1948 when we were the first country to recognize the State of Israel.
The president will also highlight our ironclad support for Israel’s security. This year, for example, he signed into the law a bill that included the largest ever appropriation for Israel’s security and defense and $1 billion to replenish Iron Dome.
The president is also working hard on integrating Israel further into the Middle East region and beyond. I’m happy to go into more detail on that front.
Unpacked: What about the issue of settlements? How does President Biden view the settlements in the West Bank and how does that influence his attitudes toward Israel?
Chanan: The Biden Administration believes that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state.
As a result, we have also been clear about our opposition to unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions. This includes violence, incitement to violence, home demolitions, the evictions of families from homes East Jerusalem, in which they have lived for generations, the destruction of property, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.
We have frequent private diplomatic discussions with the Israelis and the Palestinians about how to lay the groundwork for a solution to the conflict.
Ultimately, peace will require a negotiated, mutually agreed resolution to the conflict. Plans that are rejected out-of-hand by one side or the other are not a constructive starting point.
We are focusing our efforts on an affirmative and practical approach of constructive, positive steps that help keep the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution alive.
Unpacked: Let’s talk about this trip on a more personal level. What does this trip and visit to Israel as the president mean to him personally?
Chanan: Israel is a country near and dear to President Biden’s heart. President Biden entered into office last year with more experience and a longer history of support for Israel than any of his predecessors. This will be President Biden’s first visit to Israel as president. But it will be his 10th trip to the country since his first visit nearly 50 years ago.
To put this in perspective: when President Biden lands in Ben Gurion airport, it will be the 12th time a U.S. president travels to Israel. The first president who visited the country was Richard Nixon in 1974.
One year prior, a young senator from Delaware met with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir — and Joe Biden has known or befriended every Israeli prime minister since then.
Throughout the president’s career he talked about how he learned as a young boy from his father that if Israel did not exist, then we would need to invent it. He has a lifelong connection to the country, and his charge to all of us is to make sure we’re doing all we can to strengthen Israel’s security, prosperity, and integration into the larger region.
Unpacked: Speaking of Israel’s integration into the region, why have no new countries signed on to the Abraham Accords since President Biden took office? Is expanding the list of participating countries a priority for the president?
Chanan: The Biden Administration strongly supports the Abraham Accords and normalization agreement between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim worlds. We are deeply involved in the effort to deepen and widen the circle of peace with Israel.
We have focused on increasing Israel’s integration in the region through the Abraham Accords with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco. We have worked to deepen existing ties between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. And we are working on developing new groupings of partners, including India, Israel, UAE, and the United States.
Just last month, for example, we joined the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates in holding the inaugural meeting of the Negev Forum Steering Committee in Manama, Bahrain in order to further coordinate our collective efforts and advance a common vision for the region.
This meeting demonstrates the strength of our relations, our shared commitment to cooperation, and the important opportunities unlocked by improved relations between Israel and its neighbors, showing what can be achieved by working together to overcome shared challenges.
We have also been clear that this is not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Indeed, normalization should be leveraged to advance progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
Unpacked: We’re all hoping for progress on both fronts. Thanks for taking the time to fill us in on the president’s views ahead of the trip. Have a great time visiting Israel with President Biden!
Originally Published Jul 14 2022 07:32AM EDT