JERUSALEM — This may be President Biden’s first visit to the Middle East since taking office, but he is no stranger to regional politics and diplomacy. Few leaders can match his claim to have known every Israeli prime minister for more than half a century, beginning with Golda Meir in 1973, or his long tradition of support for Israel.
Mr. Biden’s first foreign visit to Egypt and Israel, as a young senator, was a baptism of fire. The 1973 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Yom Kippur War, erupted soon after, beginning with Egyptian and Syrian surprise attacks on Israel.
Mr. Biden has become a vocal advocate for substantial annual economic and military aid to Israel, once calling it “the best $3 billion investment we make.”
He was also a vocal opponent in the 1970s and 1980s of the sale of advanced US weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, advocating for the preservation of Israel’s qualitative military advantage in the region.
In 2007, Mr. Biden told an interviewer that “In the beginning, when I was a child, I used to say, when I was a young senator, I used to say: ‘If I was a Jew, I would be a Zionist.’ I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.
But Mr. Biden’s relations with Israeli prime ministers have also been strained. In 1982, he engaged in a bitter exchange with Menachem Begin on Capitol Hill over Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Mr Begin, a supporter of a Greater Israel stretching beyond the narrow pre-1967 borders into territories captured from Jordan and Egypt, described the talks as “lively”.
Attending Ariel Sharon’s funeral in 2014, Mr Biden described the former prime minister – who championed settlement building and Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – as a “complex man” who “also lived in a complex time in a very complex neighborhood world.”
As vice president under the Obama administration, Mr. Biden went through a few temperamental episodes with Benjamin Netanyahu, a conservative who was in power continuously from 2009 to 2021. When Mr. Biden was in Israel in 2010, in party to push for a takeover of the Israel-Palestinian peace talks, Israel’s Interior Ministry has approved 1,600 new housing units for Jews in Ramat Shlomo in Israel’s annexed East Jerusalem, an area that a large part of the world still considers occupied territory. The temporary and partial settlement freeze in place at the time was not applied in Jerusalem.
Washington viewed the announcement as a slap in the face, and Mr. Biden condemned the move as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the confidence we need right now.” Ramat Shlomo has since grown considerably.
Again in Israel as vice president in 2016, Mr Biden strongly censured the failure of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority to condemn a series of bloody attacks. A Palestinian assailant had fatally stabbed an American graduate student and war veteran along the beachfront near Tel Aviv about a mile from where Mr Biden was meeting a former prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres.
After Palestinian leaders severed most ties with Washington under the Trump administration, which recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, Mr Biden reinstated the contact and restored aid that had been cut off by his predecessor.
But the Biden administration has not reversed several Trump-era policies that have undermined Palestinian statehood aspirations and has sought to dampen expectations of any imminent resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The mutual embrace between Mr. Netanyahu and President Donald J. Trump has further damaged bipartisan support for Israel in Washington, which the country has long viewed as a strategic asset, experts say.
It took Mr. Biden almost a month after his inauguration in January 2021 to make the traditional courtesy call to Mr. Netanyahu, in what many analysts have seen as a snub, although the White House has denied that it was wanted.
Myra Noveck and Hiba Yazbek contributed to the research.