So far, United States President Joe Biden has confused his left-wing critics, piloting a remarkably bold national agenda for a centrist and traditional Democrat for life. Its stimulus and infrastructure bills advance a decidedly Liberal agenda. And while the voting rights and environmental bills he favors depend on cooperation from more conservative Democrats, such as Joe Manchin, the leadership is unambiguous.
Biden obviously drew important lessons from the Obama years. Tactically, he seems unwilling to get bogged down in fruitless negotiations with bad faith Republicans. Basically, he doesn’t apologize or dilute policies that are popular with both the grassroots and the median voter, such as increases in the minimum wage or increasing taxes on top earners. .
In either case, 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 their main concern was to gain approval from the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.
All of this is 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, an unreserved and uncritical supporter of Israel. His administration’s reaction, or lack thereof, to the latest round of Israeli atrocities – forced evictions to the razing of residential buildings and media offices – is scandalous.
The Palestinians, Israel, the Middle East region, and US foreign policy as a whole would all be in a healthier position if Biden adopted the same posture on Israel-Palestine that he has adopted more generally since his inauguration: fearless, with its time, and respond to the grassroots.
The moral and strategic failure of Israeli policy in the United States
Certainly, if there was ever a humanitarian or moral reason for the United States to stand unequivocally on Israel’s side, it died out a long time ago. Propagandist arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, the image of brave little Israel, beset by enemy states wishing to wipe it off the map, was last accurate over half a century ago.
The brutality of the Israeli occupation and the relentlessness of its colonization project, not to mention its status as the only nuclear power in the Middle East, make it an unfriendly tyrant, not an unfortunate victim. It never ceases to be annoying to hear the strongest supporters of Israel in the United States and elsewhere use the language of victimization when such rhetoric is more appropriate for Palestinians.
Aside from the obvious and palpable moral stain, there is little strategic benefit in the United States continually subsidizing Israel’s bad behavior – the only thing it gains is bad press.
Washington’s reluctance to be more equitable in its handling of the conflict, or even to allude to subjecting Israel to the usual transactional nature of international politics, should come as no surprise. There is simply no collective appetite inside the Beltway to publicly criticize Israeli actions like the ones we saw last month. And while US support for Israel has become comical, almost cutesy, under the Trump / Kushner approach, blank checks characterized the modus operandi of US relations with Israel long before 2016.
International and national incentives for impartiality
If Biden wishes to change course after these longstanding moral and strategic failures, three developments combined offer the opportunity to do so.
The first is geopolitical: the last decade has overturned many traditional alignments in the Middle East. The Arab Spring, the rise of ISIL (IS), the Iran nuclear deal and changes in the domestic arrangements of major regional powers such as Turkey combined to leave old alliances in disarray, giving birth to alternative arrangements. Are Turkey and the United States friends, because of their common membership in NATO, or rivals, because of the Syrian civil war? Are Saudi Arabia and Israel enemies, due to the continued lack of formal diplomatic relations, or partners, due to the way they see Iran?
Precisely because the Palestinian question has less resonance and is no longer the central fault line in the region – at the very least, Trump’s much-vaunted “Abraham Accords” have confirmed the symbolic relegation of the Palestinians to the Arab capitals – the Biden administration should have more room to maneuver.
The second structural change concerns American domestic policy. Israel has moved from an issue where there was a fierce and shrill bipartisan consensus to one with more partisan implications. This is partly because a new generation of liberals saw their political mobilization incubated in an era of Black Lives Matter and systemic inequalities, and partly because of the obnoxious figure of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose antipathy towards Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s full-throated embrace from one right-wing nationalist to another was not easily forgotten by Democratic voters. Taken together, these developments mean that Israel can no longer count on broad support from all political walks of life.
Along with the partisan angle, the media and cultural environment in the United States is more conducive to a more balanced approach.
Certainly, the dominating weight of the cover continues to favor Likud or AIPAC style talking points. But there have been green shoots in every print, TV and social media. The New York Times and MSNBC broadcast Palestinian voices. Mainstream Democrats such as Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy join with Bernie Sanders and members of the so-called Squad (Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib) in pushing back full American support for Israel. Supporting the rights and dignity of Palestinians is no longer a marginal position.
The third force for changing course on Israel is the global reputation of the United States. The Biden administration has gone to great lengths to emphasize, especially to the external public, that Trump was an aberration. Leaving aside the veracity of this claim – in important domestic and international arenas, Trump was a continuation, not a contradiction of US policy – Trump’s almost performative de-emphasis on human rights offers Biden an opportunity breathtaking. If he really wants to demonstrate that the “United States is back” and that nothing like Trump or Trumpism will be seen again, then what better way than to hold Israel to account?
Biden’s appalling toll on Israel
That said, even if the political costs of a change in Israel’s policy had been reduced, Biden would be one of the leaders least likely to benefit from it. Simply put, he has a terrible record when it comes to confronting Israel.
As Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden has publicly or privately undermined his boss’s policies on Israel on several occasions. For example, throughout 2009 and 2010, Biden advised Obama against his strategy of publicly pressuring Netanyahu to freeze the settlements, urging instead that there should be “no daylight between” them. United States and Israel.
When in 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressured Netanyahu in a phone call for a complete settlement freeze, along with credible assurances that he would go ahead with negotiating a solution two-state, Biden followed with a more conciliatory appeal, one that encouraged Netanyahu to ignore what he saw as a divided administration. Likewise, Biden opposed Obama’s wishes to abstain, rather than veto, UN resolutions condemning Israeli settlements in 2016.
More recently, as the 2020 elections approached, progressives believed they had obtained assurances that the party’s platform at the convention would contain references to Palestinians suffering from an “occupation,” a historic first. But Biden personally intervened to ensure the erasure of the word.
Be bold, Joe
In general, Biden was reluctant to exert any pressure on Israel. His actions reflected his persistent view that Palestinians are not worth spending the political capital it would take to truly advance their aspirations.
Such timidity would be a mistake in 2021. No one expects the United States to turn around and support a Palestinian state as loudly as it did for Kosovo, or to sanction Israel as it did for Kosovo. if it was Venezuela.
But at the very least, the United States can condition its billions in aid and advanced military equipment so that Israel does not defy official United States policy. He can point out in his rhetoric that he cares as much about the lives of Palestinians as he is about “the Israeli right to defend itself.” It can stop granting Tel Aviv diplomatic protection to the UN, where it constantly vetoed resolutions condemning Israeli actions. And it can stop indulging in the charade that standing there while a client state commits gross rights violations and war crimes is even, by far, in line with its self-proclaimed values or interests.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.