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1. The year of (another) Iran showdown
It’s bound to happen. In fact, it’s unavoidable.
As Iran and the world powers meet in Vienna for their eighth round of talks aimed at reviving the nuclear deal, it is clear that the moment of truth is quickly approaching. Like it or not, 2022 will require the United States, its allies, Israel and the pro-Israel community to make some tough decisions.
There’s still a chance (just a slight one, but never say never) that the Vienna talks will produce a road map for returning to the nuclear accord, more or less within the lines of the previous deal. This outcome would send waves of joy throughout the capitals of all signatories of the deal, including the European nations, Russia and China. For President Biden it would serve as proof that his insistence on diplomacy, even when faced by Iranian resistance and Israeli prodding, paid off. But it would also put Israel and its supporters in the United States in a difficult position: Do they launch an all-out war against the deal, echoing the actions taken by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and most of the organized Jewish world in 2015—and thus face the wrath of Biden, the Democrats and the international community? Or do they begrudgingly learn to live with the deal, hoping for improvements in the future? Not an easy choice.
A more likely outcome of the Vienna talks in 2022 will be a dead end. In that case, will the Biden administration turn to military actions, to tightening sanctions or to an interim deal? Will Israel decide to take action on its own? And where do these options leave pro-Israel Americans? Rooting for war, begging for peace, or sitting on the sidelines? No easy choices here either. And you thought 2021 was a tough year.
2. Jewish midterm candidates to watch
It’s midterm year, a time for Democrats to prepare for the worst and for Republicans to hope for the best. And with just a tiny majority in the House and a split Senate, Democrats have a lot to lose if predictions of a Republican landslide come true.
There are also some interesting Jewish candidates hoping to make 2022 their year. Perhaps the most intriguing is Josh Mandel, running in the Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio. Mandel, a former state treasurer and Senate candidate who was on a hiatus from politics, is a self-proclaimed Trumpist. He is running to the right of most other Republicans in this crucial state, and he has made the idea of preserving America’s “Judeo-Christian” values a key issue in his campaign.
Also in Ohio, keep an eye on former Trump aide Max Miller, who is running for Congress. In Nevada, Israeli-American Republican Sigal Chattah is running for attorney general, and in Arizona, Democrat Aaron Lieberman wants to be the state’s first-ever Jewish governor. (We wouldn’t have known all this without the excellent reporting of Ron Kampeas over at JTA. Thanks, Ron.)
3. Abraham Accords followup
The series of normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, known as the Abraham Accords, has turned out to be a bigger success than many had expected. It’s true that critics’ warnings—that the deal sidelines the Palestinians and makes it even harder to reach a solution in the near future—have proven to be right. But what makes the Abraham Accords a success story is that they’ve been adopted by the Biden administration, perhaps the only issue on which he has shown willingness to continue his predecessor’s policy.
The upcoming year will test Biden’s ability to demonstrate his commitment to the process by convincing additional countries in the region to normalize relations with Israel. It could be done in incremental steps by encouraging countries like Oman or Indonesia to normalize relations with Israel, or Biden could spring for the higher-hanging fruit and convince the Saudis to take their relationship with Israel from the shadows into daylight.
Getting any nation to join the Accords would bolster Biden’s pro-Israel credentials. Getting the Saudis on board would be no less than a regional game- changer.
But—and this is something to watch closely in the coming year—even if Biden manages to expand the Abraham Accords, it won’t look like the Trump-era deals. The Biden administration has made it clear they want to use these deals to advance the Palestinian issue, so expect to see a new kind of price tag attached to any future normalization agreement.
4. The Jerusalem consulate
This pesky consulate issue isn’t going to disappear.
As a reminder, the United States for years had maintained a separate official consulate in Jerusalem, which was in charge of relations with the Palestinians. When Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, he did away with the separate consulate, effectively folding the diplomatic and consular channel connecting the U.S. and the Palestinians into the U.S. embassy in charge of relations with Israel. Biden, in turn, vowed to reopen the consulate, but now the Israeli government is putting up a fight, claiming that by doing so Biden would put Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem into question.
This has been going on for more than a year, but 2022 may be the year this dispute is resolved one way or another.
Ask Israelis, and they’ll tell you that the U.S. understands this issue is politically explosive for the Bennett coalition (“You’ll have a consulate in Jerusalem, but you’ll also get Bibi back,” as one Israeli official explained to his American counterparts) and therefore they are looking for ways to get out of their commitment to reopen the office.
Ask Americans, and they’ll stress that nothing has changed—and that just as the U.S. has had a consulate in Jerusalem for more than a century and nothing bad happened, there’s no problem in reopening it now again.
Ask officials who are actually involved in talks about it, and you’ll get nothing. Those in the know are hinting that some kind of compromise may be reached, and that quiet, yet intense, negotiations are continuing behind the scenes.
5. Stuck in the Senate: Will this be the year of Lipstadt and of Iron Dome?
It’s been five months since Biden chose Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt to serve as special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, and more than three months since her nomination was formally sent to the Senate, but she has yet to be confirmed. Lipstadt, a renowned Holocaust and antisemitism scholar, irked Republicans with her tweets criticizing them in previous years and is now facing their retaliation.
This year will likely bring about an end to this saga. These types of showdowns usually end with the side holding up the nomination simply giving in, after making sure their point has been made. But Republicans could also try to get something from the Democratic leadership in return for lifting their ban.
Lipstadt will probably be sworn in in 2022, and once the issue is resolved, those who have been holding up her nomination might want to consider whether leaving the position vacant for so long was in any way helpful in fighting antisemitism across the world.
And then there’s the Iron Dome funding bill, which is also stuck in the Senate.
That too is in the hands of Senate Republicans. Actually, in the hands of one Senate Republican—Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Back in September, progressive Democrats caused a brief delay in passing a $1 billion aid package for replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket systems, which had been depleted during the latest round of fire with Hamas in Gaza.
Since then, the aid has been stuck in the Senate due to Paul’s insistence that the money come out of aid promised for Afghanistan.
What will happen in 2022?
One way or another, Paul will likely cave in and allow the funding to move forward.
When that happens, sometime in the next few months, we will be here to remind you that a handful of extremists in either party have the power to derail U.S.-Israel relations, but also that it’s never a good idea to mistake the actions of these few with the policy of the majority.