On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked flat-out if Israel was an important ally of the United States. Psaki did not give a direct answer to that question.
A reporter asked, “Does the administration still consider the Saudis and the Israelis important allies?”
“Well, again, I think there are ongoing processes and internal inter-agency processes,” Psaki replied. “One that we, I think, confirmed, an inter-agency meeting just last week to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East. We’ve only been here three and a half weeks. And I think I’m going to let those policy processes see themselves through before we give kind of a complete lay down of what our national security approaches will be to a range of issues.”
“The Biden administration will restore diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority, more than two years after President Donald J. Trump effectively ended them,” The New York Times reported in late January, adding, “The shift, which will include a resumption of American aid to the Palestinians, was announced on Tuesday in a speech by Richard Mills, the acting United States ambassador to the United Nations.”
In 1982 Biden reportedly banged on a desk and berated Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that if Israel continued building settlements in Judea and Samaria, the U.S. would cut off financial aid. Begin fired back:
Don’t threaten us with cutting off your aid. It will not work. I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it. We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.
This desk is designed for writing, not for fists. Don’t threaten us with slashing aid. Do you think that because the U.S. lends us money it is entitled to impose on us what we must do? We are grateful for the assistance we have received, but we are not to be threatened. I am a proud Jew. Three thousand years of culture are behind me, and you will not frighten me with threats. Take note: we do not want a single soldier of yours to die for us.
In November 2019, Biden was asked if he would reverse President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He replied, “Not now. I wouldn’t reverse it. I wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”
Prior to the exchange in which Psaki declined to answer directly if Israel was an important ally, there was a series of questions about President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That exchange went like this:
Reporter: Is there any update on whether the president has called or plans to call Prime Minister Netanyahu?
Psaki: I don’t have an update. He is looking forward to speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I can assure you that will be soon, but I don’t have a specific time or date for when that will occur.
Reporter: As I’m sure you know, there’s a narrative in Israel that this is an intentional dis, is it?
Psaki: It is not an intentional dis. Prime Minister Netanyahu is someone the president has known for some time. Obviously, we have a long and important relationship with Israel and the president has known him and has been working on a range of issues that there’s a mutual commitment to for some time. It is just a reflection of the fact that we’ve been here for three and a half weeks. He’s not called every single global leader yet and he is eager to do that in the weeks ahead.
Reporter: But he has called every other major ally in Europe and in Asia.
Psaki: He’s called many of them, that is true. Some would argue they haven’t received calls yet, and they are still eager to receive them. But I can assure you, he will be speaking with the prime minister soon and he’s looking forward to doing that. Go ahead.
Another reporter: Just to follow up on Anne, are you talking about days or weeks as the timeframe of the president speaking with Netanyahu?
Psaki: I don’t have an exact timeline to give you other than he’s looking forward to having the conversation. They’ve known each other for some time. There are certainly areas of mutual interest. And as soon as he makes that call, we will let you all know.
Reporter: Can you give us further details about the conversation that national security advisor Jake Sullivan had with his Israeli counterpart, I believe, to discuss Iran yesterday?
Psaki: I don’t have additional details on that. I’m happy to talk to Jake and see if there’s more we can read out for all of you.
Reporter: That’d be really great. And still on the issue of the Middle East, I mean, I know that you’re saying that things are still under review, including policies like the Abraham Accords, but can you please just give a broad sense of what the administration is trying to achieve in the Middle East? For example, does the administration still consider the Saudis and the Israelis important allies?
That prompted Psaki’s non-answer.
WOW: @PressSec refuses to say that Israel is an American ally.
There is literally no excuse for this. And might explain why Biden hasn't called Netanyahu yet. pic.twitter.com/EfMJNN9Ssh
— John Cooper (@thejcoop) February 12, 2021