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Netanyahu’s Congress speech may determine Biden’s fate

If Netanyahu manages to convince Congress that Biden does not know what he is doing, then he is finished as president. (AP)
If Netanyahu manages to convince Congress that Biden does not know what he is doing, then he is finished as president. (AP)
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08 Jul 2024 01:07:11 GMT9
08 Jul 2024 01:07:11 GMT9

US President Joe Biden is facing unprecedented challenges. After a disastrous debate night, many are calling for him to end his reelection bid. His wife and son, however, are urging him to stay in the game and to fire his staff.

Biden was cowed by Donald Trump in last month’s presidential debate. Despite the numerous calls for him to drop out of the race, he has decided to stay on, saying he will not squander three and a half years of good work because of one bad night. However, to win the race, he needs to prove he is capable. Hence, he cannot afford to be cowed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will address Congress on July 24.

Although Trump did not provide any clear and convincing answers to any of the questions asked by the presenters, he managed to intimidate Biden. Trump knew very well how to take advantage of Biden, who stumbled several times during the debate. He even mocked him by saying he did not understand what he was saying. Trump said that Biden is like a “Palestinian,” using the word like a slur. He added that Biden was a “weak” Palestinian.

Both candidates are old. However, one came out from the debate as old and strong and the other as old and weak.

Following the debate, media pressure started building on Biden to quit the race. However, it is late in the game.

Historian Allan Lichtman, who has correctly predicted the winner of nine of the last 10 US presidential elections, said the debate will not be a deciding factor. He used the example of 1984, when Ronald Reagan was relatively old and performed terribly in the presidential debates, yet still won the election. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton, who did well in all her debates, lost to Trump in 2016. A New York Times/Siena poll was conducted after the debate. It found that 74 percent of voters perceived Biden as too old for the job. In order to mitigate the effects of the debate, Biden needs to prove he is effective and capable. He cannot afford to be cowed.

Netanyahu’s address to Congress will be risky for Biden. One has to remember how the Israeli PM insulted Barack Obama in 2015 and received a standing ovation in Congress. Biden cannot afford such a humiliation.

Biden will need to be better prepared for Netanyahu’s speech than he was for the debate with Trump. No one really knows what Netanyahu will say. However, an informed observer can guess. He wants to continue the war on Gaza as it is the only way to ensure his political survival. He also wants to expand Israel’s attacks on Lebanon.

Netanyahu has been very critical of Biden. He has said that it is “inconceivable” for the US to withhold weapons from Israel. Is he going to whine and complain about Biden in front of Congress and get the standing ovation he got for insulting Obama in 2015? This would be a fatal blow to Biden and the Democrats. If Biden wants a second term, he needs to make sure this does not happen. 

Biden should stand firm and not allow a foreign leader to humiliate him on his own turf.

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

Netanyahu’s visit has been approved — Biden cannot do anything about it. The only thing Biden can do is fend off its possible repercussions. To start with, he should stand firm and not allow a foreign leader to humiliate him on his own turf. The second thing he and his team should do is to start probing members of Congress to make sure Netanyahu will not get any support for continuing the war or for striking Lebanon. The Biden administration should detail to lawmakers the futility of the Netanyahu policy, which has been unable to clear and hold any area in Gaza. The staggering civilian toll should be highlighted.

Additionally, it should be explained to the members of Congress that a strike on Lebanon might mean a regional war. According to my contacts, Netanyahu is promising a “limited strike.” However, he does not know how his foe will reply. Will its response be limited? We surely do not know. Is there a guarantee that Iran will not become involved? If the Biden team clarifies these issues to Congress, he can at least garner the required support in order to not get humiliated by Netanyahu. Biden needs to make sure Congress will not side with Netanyahu against him.

The time prior to the visit is crucial for Biden. If Netanyahu manages to convince Congress that Biden does not know what he is doing, then he is finished as president. If Netanyahu succeeds in cowing Biden, then Trump will be president again.

Biden has to remember that people are judging him for what is happening in Gaza, they are not judging Trump.

This is an advantage for the Republican candidate. Hence, Biden needs to show assertiveness. Already, most Democrats think the US is providing too much military aid to Israel, with 56 percent saying they would be less likely to vote for a president that supports continuing providing Tel Aviv with weapons. Biden can capitalize on this and take a firm stand. He also has a UN Security Council resolution he can bank on.

Biden has always positioned himself as a president who respects alliances and international institutions and agreements, contrary to his opponent. This is the time for Biden to prove that to the American public. Gaza has been a disadvantage for the Biden administration in the election season so far. However, this disadvantage could turn into an advantage if Biden plays it properly. This might be his chance to regain his prestige and perhaps get reelected.

• Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.

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