There are many reasons why President Joe Biden has changed Washington’s approach to Israel-Palestine.
Up to this point, United States President Joe Biden has confused his critics with the Left, operating a domestic agenda that is remarkably bold for a lifelong centrist and traditional Democrat. His incentives and infrastructure bills advance a lofty liberal agenda. And while his support of voting rights and environmental bills relies on the cooperation of more conservative Democrats, such as Joe Manchin, the direction is clear.
Biden has clearly drawn important lessons from the Obama years. It appears that tactically, he doesn’t want to get caught up in fruitless talks with bad-faith Republicans. Basically, he’s not apologizing for policies that are popular with both the base and the average voter, such as increasing the minimum wage or increasing taxes on higher-income earners.
On both scores, Biden represents a departure from his two most immediate Democratic predecessors in the White House, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, who often ruled as if his primary concern was gaining the approval of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.
This is all good news. And yet, in the realm of foreign policy, at least on Israel-Palestine, Biden is still a Democrat of the 1990s, that is to say, an unreserved and non-critical supporter of Israel. His administration’s response, or lack thereof, to Israel’s latest round of atrocities – from forced evictions to the leveling of residential apartment blocks and media offices – is reprehensible.
Palestine, Israel, the Middle East region, and American foreign policy will all be in a healthy place if Biden takes on the Israeli-Palestinian stance he has more generally adopted since his inauguration: fearless, ahead of time. Growing, and reacting to the base.
The moral and strategic failure of Israel’s policy in America
Certainly, if there was a human or moral reason for America to explicitly stand with Israel, it was extinguished long ago. Despite propaganda to the contrary, the image of Israel surrounded by enemy states that want to wipe it off the map was accurate more than half a century ago.
The brutality of Israel’s occupation and the relentlessness of its settlement project, not to mention its status as the only nuclear power in the Middle East, make it not a helpless victim but an uncompromising bully. It never ceases to listen to staunch supporters of Israel in the US and elsewhere when such rhetoric is more appropriate for Palestinians.
Aside from the obvious and obvious moral stain, the US has little strategic advantage in continuing to subsidize Israel’s bad behavior – the only thing it gains is bad press.
The sign of Washington’s reluctance to deal with the conflict, or even to subject Israel to the normal transactional nature of international politics, should surprise some. There is no collective appetite to publicly criticize Israel’s actions inside the Beltway, as we saw last month. And while US support of Israel under the Trump/Kushner approach has become comical, almost awkward, blank checks have characterized the modus operandi of US relations with Israel from long before 2016.
International and domestic incentives for equality
Should Biden want to change course from these long-standing ethical and strategic failures, the three developments in conjunction provide an opportunity to do so.
The first is geopolitical: the last decade has extended to many traditional alignments in the Middle East. The Arab Spring, the rise of ISIL, the Iran nuclear deal and changes in the domestic system in major regional powers such as Turkey have dislocated earlier alliances, giving rise to alternative arrangements. Are Turkey and the US friends because of shared membership in NATO, or rivals because of the Syrian civil war? Are Saudi Arabia and Israel enemies, because of the constant absence of formal diplomatic ties or partners, because of how they view Iran?
Precisely because the Palestinian issue has less resonance and is no longer the central fault-line in the region — if nothing else, Trump’s much-anticipated “Abraham Agreement” ratified the symbolic deportation of Palestinians to Arab capitals — of the Biden administration. There should be more room nearby to maneuver.
The second structural change is in domestic American politics. Israel has changed from an issue where there was a fierce and harsh bipartisan consensus to one with more partisan influence. This is partly because a new generation of liberals has made their political mobilization in an era of Black Lives Matter and systemic inequality, and partly because of the talismanic figure of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose hostility to Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s A full embrace. , from one right-wing nationalist to another, is not easily forgotten by Democratic voters. Put together, these developments mean that Israel can no longer rely on broad-based support from across the political spectrum.
With a partisan approach, the media and cultural environment in America is more conducive to a more balanced approach.
To be sure, the major load of coverage is in favor of Likud- or AIPAC-style talking points. But there have been green shoots in print, television and social media. The New York Times and MSNBC are broadcasting Palestinian Voices. Mainstream Democrats such as Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy are joining the likes of Bernie Sanders and members of the so-called squad (Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib) pushing back against unqualified US support for Israel. Supporting Palestinian rights and dignity is no longer a trivial situation.
The third force driving change in Israel is America’s global reputation. The Biden administration in particular has been at pains to expose to outside audiences that Trump was an aberration. Leaving aside the veracity of the claim—in important domestic and international arenas, Trump was a constant, not a paradox of American politics—Trump’s almost demonstrative de-emphasis on human rights provides Biden with a gilt-edge opportunity. If he really wants to demonstrate that “America is back,” and nothing like Trump or Trumpism will ever be seen again, what better way than to hold Israel accountable?
Biden’s shocking record on Israel
All told, even if the political cost of the Israel policy change is mitigated, Biden will be one of the least likely leaders to take advantage. Simply put, he has a frightening record for facing Israel.
As Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden has publicly or privately downplayed his boss’s policies on Israel several times. For example, during 2009 and 2010, Biden advised Obama against his strategy to publicly pressure Netanyahu to freeze settlements, urging instead that there was “no daylight” between the US and Israel. ” Should not happen.
When, in 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Netanyahu in a phone call for a full settlement freeze, as well as credible assurances that he would proceed with talks on a two-state solution, Biden called for a more conciliation call. Followed along, one that encouraged Netanyahu to ignore what he saw as a divided administration. Similarly, Biden opposed Obama’s desire to instead veto UN resolutions condemning Israeli settlements in 2016.
More recently, in the run-up to the 2020 election, progressives believed they had received assurances that the party’s platform at the convention would contain references to Palestinians suffering from “occupation”, a historic first. But Biden personally intervened to erase the word.
get bold, joe
In general, Biden has shied away from exerting even the slightest pressure on Israel. His actions reflect his abiding view that Palestinians do not deserve to spend the political capital it would actually take to advance their aspirations.
Such cowardice would be considered wrong in 2021. No one expects the US to execute a diversion and support the Palestinian state as vocally as it did for Kosovo, or to sanction Israel as if it were Venezuela.
But at the very least, the US can make its billions of aid and advanced military equipment conditional on Israel in a way that does not disregard official US policy. This could indicate in his rhetoric that he cares as much about Palestinian life as about Israel’s “right to defend itself”. It could stop providing diplomatic protection to Tel Aviv at the United Nations, where it continually vetos resolutions condemning Israel’s actions. And it can stop joining the charioteer when blatant rights are violated by a client state and war crimes even remotely consistent with its own values or interests.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.