This is the shortest column I’ve ever written — because it doesn’t take long to get things in focus:
President Biden, you are meeting Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, for the first time since he returned to office in December. He’s formed the most extreme government in Israel’s history and yet your administration is considering forging a complex partnership with his coalition and Saudi Arabia. There are enormous potential benefits and risks for the United States. I hope you won’t proceed without getting satisfactory answers from Netanyahu on three key questions — so we know just what Israel, and just which Bibi, we’re dealing with:
1. Prime Minister Netanyahu, your government’s coalition agreement is the first in Israel’s history to define the annexation of the West Bank as one of its goals — or, as it says, applying Israeli “sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.” But you earlier supported the Trump Middle East peace plan that proposed dividing the West Bank, with Israel controlling roughly 30 percent and the Palestinian state getting roughly 70 percent, albeit with tight security guarantees and no contiguity. Do you intend to annex the West Bank, or will you negotiate its future disposition with the Palestinians? Yes or no? We need to know. Because if you intend to annex, all your normalization agreements with Arab states will collapse, and we will not be able to defend you in the United Nations from charges of building an apartheid state.
2. Bibi, you told your first cabinet meeting last December that your top priorities include stopping Iran’s nuclear program, as well as expanding Israel’s growing relations with the Arab world. But we saw you decide instead to prioritize a judicial coup to strip the Israeli Supreme Court of its ability to hold your government accountable. That, in turn, distracted your military leadership, fractured your air force and elite fighting units, bitterly divided your society and weakened your diplomatic alliances from Washington to Europe. Iran, meanwhile, moved in with a diplomatic offensive, patching up its ties with all your Arab neighbors and eating your lunch. Why should we make confronting Iran’s nuclear program our priority when you haven’t?
3. Prime Minister, the Saudis are ready to do something hard — normalize relations with Israel. We are doing something hard to help facilitate that — forging a mutual defense treaty with Saudi Arabia. What hard things are you ready to do vis-à-vis the Palestinians to complete the deal? It feels to us that you don’t want to take any political risks — that you want everyone to do something hard except you.
Bibi, you’re out of focus for the American people. We need to know: Who are you now?