The United States’ unwavering support for Israel has enabled and emboldened the right-wing Israeli government’s escalating violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, analysts say.
As Israeli forces targeted the densely populated Jenin refugee camp with air attacks and ground raids involving hundreds of troops on Monday, the White House again underscored what it called Israel’s “right to defend” itself.
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“We support Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups,” the White House National Security Council said in a brief statement.
Experts say that response reflects US President Joe Biden’s unwillingness to rein in his country’s top ally in the Middle East despite a pledge to centre human rights in US foreign policy – and as concerns around the scale of the Israeli attack in Jenin are mounting.
“I think we will continue to see – as has happened in the past – the US administration run cover for the Israelis and let them get away with doing whatever they want,” Daniel Levy, president of the US/Middle East Project think tank, told Al Jazeera in a television interview on Monday.
The Biden administration doesn’t want the situation in the West Bank to blow up, but it won’t risk its relationship with Israel, Levy said. “And that’s why in particular things have gotten so bad.”
‘Israel on a pedestal’
Israel launched the attack on Jenin – one of many recent assaults on the refugee camp – on Monday, saying it is targeting armed Palestinian groups. At least nine Palestinians have been killed and dozens injured so far.
The attack, which followed the killing of four Israeli settlers by two Palestinian gunmen in the northern West Bank last month, included some of the worst Israeli air attacks in the occupied territory in decades.
In its brief statement, the White House did not mention Palestinian civilians or call for a de-escalation. Later on Monday, a State Department spokesperson said it is “is imperative to take all possible precautions to prevent the loss of civilian lives” while reiterating that Israel has a “right to defend its people”.
Tariq Kenney-Shawa, a US policy fellow at Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, said the US policy on the conflict keeps getting worse.
“The Biden administration has leaned into its role as a complicit enabler of the Israeli occupation to the point it has all but abandoned even symbolic talking points of ‘supporting a two-state solution’; or calls for calm,” Kenney-Shawa told Al Jazeera in an email.
“The US has shown, implicitly and explicitly, that it fully endorses Israel’s actions no matter the consequences and that it holds Israel on a pedestal that exempts it from the same human rights norms and international standards that Washington holds the rest of the world to.”
Ahmad Abuznaid, director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, an advocacy group, also slammed Washington’s position, but said it was unsurprising given continued US military aid to Israel.
Despite being accused of committing the crime of apartheid by leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Israel receives at least $3.8bn in US aid annually.
“The Biden administration’s response, while Israel is massacring Palestinian people in Jenin refugee camp in the largest invasion since 2002, shows a cruel disregard for Palestinian life,” Abuznaid told Al Jazeera in an email.
“The Israeli apartheid state is the aggressor, colonizing Palestinian land and murdering Palestinian people, and to characterize its massive colonial violence as anything else is absurd.”
For the past year, Israel has conducted near-daily military raids in the West Bank, a trend that has intensified under the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took office in late 2022.
Israel also has pushed to expand illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as settlers, often protected by the Israeli army, increased their attacks on Palestinian communities.
While the US administration has denounced settler violence and voiced opposition to Netanyahu’s settlement policies, it has repeatedly reasserted support for Israel.
The Biden administration has also prioritised forging formal diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab states – namely Saudi Arabia – in its Middle East agenda, a push opposed by Palestinian rights advocates.
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken portrayed the violence in the West Bank as an obstacle to that so-called “normalisation” drive.
“We’ve told our friends and allies in Israel that if there’s a fire burning in their backyard, it’s going to be a lot tougher – if not impossible – to actually both deepen the existing agreements as well as to expand them to include potentially Saudi Arabia,” Blinken said.
Meanwhile, though the US’s continued support for Israel amid the Jenin refugee camp raid remains unsurprising to most observers, some say the attack should push the Biden administration to take a more urgent approach.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a US-based advocacy group, called on Biden to take “concrete action” to end the “war crimes” being committed against Palestinians in Jenin.
“The Israeli government is completely out of control because it does not expect to face any consequences from the Biden administration,” the group’s director, Nihad Awad, said in a statement. “This must change.”
Kenney-Shawa also said the Jenin assault is “particularly significant” because of its scale and scope. Palestinian residents and medics have reported that Israeli forces dug up streets inside the camp, preventing first responders from reaching people in need of help.
“These tactics also show that Israel is taking the next step in its apartheid agenda by using the same tactics they’ve devastated Gaza with, and now turning them on the West Bank,” Kenney-Shawa said.
“Air strikes and bulldozers digging up streets all serve as acts of collective punishment aimed at breaking the will of Palestinians in Jenin and beyond.”