Mike Pence’s ‘Seinfeld visit’: A visit about nothing
Op-ed: For months, we have been hearing about ‘the deal of the century,’ which seems more like the Loch Ness Monster: Tens of thousands are talking about it, dozens claim to have seen it, some swear they have proof of its existence, but it doesn’t really exist; there is no American peace plan beyond a partial ‘copy-paste’ of the Clinton Parameters. So why is this nice man, the US vice president, paying us a visit?
He’s likeable, sympathetic, a football fan, and—by his own admission—an evangelical Christian first, and only then an American. He loves the Jewish people because of their historic purpose, and he loves Israel because it serves as the Jewish people’s temporary home before they become Christian after Armageddon—the final battle between good and evil.
This is the man who is “a heartbeat away” from the US presidency: Vice President Mike Pence, formerly the governor of Indiana and a member of the House of Representatives. A nice man.
He hasn’t declared bankruptcy five times, he doesn’t slander his rivals blatantly, he doesn’t tweet against the media in the middle of the night, he doesn’t threaten North Korea, he doesn’t meet Russian government officials without reporting it, and he hasn’t promised them anything. He hasn’t harassed women and hasn’t paid a porn star $130,000 for her silence. He’s simply Mike, the amiable evangelical from Indiana.
And now he’s visiting Israel. It’s allegedly a diplomatic visit, part of a foreign policy. A visit which was planned and thought out, with carefully-considered goals and priorities. But only allegedly. It’s actually a “Seinfeld visit.” A visit about nothing. A visit with no goals, with no required achievements, with no continuation in a chain of visits that are part of an organized policy. It’s just a visit. A nice one, but just a visit. A nice man is paying us a visit, and this article could have ended here.
The cliché that any visit by a US president or his deputy is important, as it helps strengthen relations between America and Israel, is true. Israel’s relations with the United States since the late 1960s, and especially since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, are a torque multiplier of Israel’s national security, which is why even a “Seinfeld visit” shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Having said that, apart from the enthusiasm and provincial adrenaline poisoning among parts of the government and the media, we’re allowed to ask what is this all for, and whether there are any motives and goals here.
In the past, a vice president’s visit had some substance, meaning and a political purpose. Reinforcing a diplomatic process, sending direct messages from the president through someone higher than the secretary of state, being sent by the president to solve problems, indirectly floating trial balloons on behalf of the president to give him “reasonable deniability” if it fails and “presidential validation” if the trial succeeds.
These are missions which Vice President Al Gore was tasked with in the Bill Clinton days, which Richard Cheney was tasked with in the George W. Bush days, which Joe Biden was tasked with in the eight years of the Obama administration. These three men had foreign policy experience and knowledge. Pence doesn’t. Moreover, there is no clear American policy in the Middle East. There are no failures either, despite the complaints from the Palestinians and parts of Israel’s political system. There’s simply nothing.
For months, we have been hearing about “the deal of the century,” which seems more like the Loch Ness Monster: Tens of thousands of people are talking about it, dozens claim to have seen it, some swear they have proof of its existence, but it doesn’t really exist. There is no American peace plan beyond a partial “copy-paste” of the Clinton Parameters, as Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat has a habit of doing.
Is there a diplomatic agenda? No. Are there diplomatic plans? No. Are there diplomatic crises that can’t be solved without Pence’s presence? Not really. The US isn’t intervening in the existing crises—Syria, Yemen, Turkey-Iran, Qatar-Saudi Arabia, Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority—and is instead settling for President Donald Trump’s bragging on Twitter.
So why did Pence arrive after all, despite being boycotted by the Palestinians and the Arab world's reservations about him and about Trump? Because he is first of all an evangelical. Because he is a true friend of the Jewish people, although mostly in the theological sense, and because he knows that the missing heartbeat separating between him and the presidency depends on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations.
Alon Pinkas served as Israel's consul general in New York.