Biden Found Even Modest Israel-Palestinian Peace Steps Impossible

Some U.S. officials believe that, as a practical matter, Mr. Biden could reopen the office over Israeli objections.

Pressed on the consulate’s fate in February, the State Department spokesman at the time, Ned Price, said: “These things take time. Obviously there are various parties that are involved in a process like this.”

Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Jerusalem in the George W. Bush administration, called the years before Oct. 7 a missed opportunity.

“The question can be asked, ‘Why didn’t Biden act to undo what Trump had wrought?’” Mr. Kurtzer said.

Mr. Kurtzer allowed that Mr. Biden had inherited “a mess” on the Palestinian issue, in large part because of Mr. Trump’s policies. And he said that a different policy agenda would not likely have prevented the murderous Hamas attack last month. (The United States has never had diplomatic relations with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization.)

But Mr. Kurtzer said that Mr. Biden’s approach before Oct. 7 does have relevance today.

While it helped that Mr. Biden reopened a dialogue with the Palestinians and delivered aid to them, Mr. Kurtzer said the things the president did not do — like reopening the consulate, or reinstating the legal opinion on West Bank settlements — sent a “negative” signal.

That has harmed American credibility across the Arab world, Mr. Kurtzer says, and is now complicating Mr. Biden’s efforts to support Israel. “Look how fast the narrative changed” from sympathy for to condemnation of Israel, he said.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Biden will push harder this time for a lasting peace agreement. Some U.S. officials still see a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia as an opportunity.

But opportunities have slipped away before.

In May 2021, Israeli forces bombed Gaza for 11 days in response to Hamas rocket fire until a cease-fire halted the fighting.

Lamenting civilian deaths in that clash, Mr. Biden vowed to “continue our quiet and relentless diplomacy” to ensure that Israelis and Palestinians could peacefully coexist.

“I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress, and I’m committed to working for it,” he said.

Two and a half years later, his challenge appears greater than ever.

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