Biden to Israel and Palestine, the show must go on

It is now Biden’s turn to revive the peace procession.

Then-US Vice President Joe Biden and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during their meeting at the presidential compound on March 10, 2010 in Ramallah, West Bank [Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images]

It has been a year since President Donald Trump and his pal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unveiled their “Deal of the Century” to a crowd of supporters and financial backers.

Their plan envisioned Israel, with an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, being sovereign over historical Palestine and commanding total control over the wide network of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.

The proposed Peace Plan was a sham, devised by Trump’s lieutenants to appease Israel and please his conservative evangelical base.

The “deal” was not a deal at all, since it was not negotiated with the concerned party, the Palestinians.

Utterly shortsighted, it also violated international law, broke with long-standing US policy and principles, and torpedoed whatever was left of Washington’s suitability as a mediator.

But it was all in line with Trump’s record of supporting Israel’s military occupation and legitimising its illegal settlements while offending the Palestinians and delegitimising their struggle for freedom.

In 2017, the Trump administration recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and also closed the representative office of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington, DC the following year.

It also froze all assistance to UNRWA, the UN agency tasked with supporting millions of Palestinians living as refugees and quit the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) under the pretext of bias against Israel on account of its policies in occupied Palestine.

Alas, Congress kept mostly silent. And so did much of the world, including the Arab world. Even though many vehemently rejected Trump’s dealing and wheeling over Palestine, they could or would do little or nothing to stop him, for fear of retaliation.

Long before a vengeful Trump administration began to take down names of those who would not back its policies in Congress, like a bully, it “took down names” of countries which did not back its Israel policies at the UN.

The Trump administration went on to cynically exploit the ambition or vulnerability of the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco to nudge them to normalise relations with colonial Israel despite its continued assault on the Palestinians and against the will of their peoples.

The reversal of the long-held conventional wisdom that a Palestinian state is a prerequisite for Arab normalisation exposed the utter weakness of the Arab regimes and rendered any peace process superfluous.

Why would Israel negotiate with the Palestinians if it could dictate its terms to them; why compromise when belligerence is rewarded with more concessions?

So the peace process was pronounced dead. Yet again! After all, it had also been pronounced dead after Clinton’s 2000 Camp David summit failed to save it; after George W Bush’s Roadmap failed to revive it, and after the Obama Administration all but gave up on it.

Alas, with each obituary, violence broke out in frustration as Israel unleashed military campaigns including two major offensives against Gaza. Whether it acted in vengeance, or to “mow the lawn”, ie cut the Palestinians to size, Israeli aggression led to mayhem and the death of thousands.

And yet, there is no giving up on the spectacle; no letting go of the diplomatic charade which, in fact, killed the two-state solution, by allowing Israel to deepen its military and civilian entrenchment in the prospective Palestinian state.

The peace process is dead; long live the peace process.

For it is now Biden’s turn to revive the peace procession.

His administration has promised to redress some of the defects of the Trump approach by improving relations with the PLO, reopening the US consulate in East Jerusalem, and restoring financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) so that it could put the show back on the road.

The move is commendable and is sure to be welcomed everywhere, except perhaps in Israel, where the Netanyahu-led government continues to embrace all that is Trump and oppose all that Biden stands for.

That is why it is high time for the US president to shun this corrupt Israeli prime minister, who has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. And who, like Trump, has undermined the electoral process purely for personal gain and glory.

Netanyahu had basically taken Trump’s side during the elections, and kept his joint photo with Trump on his official Twitter account, well after his mob attacked the Capitol.

Biden surely remembers how Netanyahu, rudely and against all protocol, incited Congress against the Obama administration on the Iran nuclear question

The president must also respond to Netanyahu’s most recent provocation of announcing new settlement expansion on the eve of his inauguration, by speaking out against the illegal Israeli settlements, as he did in the past.

Lest he forgot how Netanyahu humiliated him personally as he visited Jerusalem in 2010 to restart the peace process, by announcing dramatic new plans for illegal settlement expansion in East Jerusalem.

If, as to be expected, words do not work, the US must act to censor Netanyahu or his potential replacement after the March elections.

If he truly wants to restore US diplomatic credibility, Biden must be ready to leverage US financial and military assistance to Israel, which amounts to more than half of the US’s entire foreign military financing.

It is outrageous that Biden appears to think such a step would be “outrageous” when it is the only practical way to induce Israel to end its occupation and save it from its worst demons.

The use of such leverage does not undermine an alliance; it helps save it before it is too late. And it does not only apply to US-Israel relations. Biden must use Washington’s leverage with Saudi Arabia to end its war in Yemen, and use its leverage with Egypt to end the wide human rights abuses there, etc.

Likewise, if Biden refuses to use Washington’s leverage, Israel will continue to deepen its occupation and move further to the right, making any solution of any kind impossible without greater violence.

The Biden administration needs to drop the pretence that $40bn of US military support for Israel safeguards its security and moderates its position when the record shows it only safeguards its occupation and hardens its posture.

Pursuing the same damn policies again and again for more than half a century and expecting different results is indeed madness.

Truth be told, the Middle East region is in such turmoil, there may not be a geopolitical justification or strategic interest why Biden should invest big political capital on Palestine.

But there is a moral imperative that could no longer be muddled or ignored. One that is widely embraced by the Democratic Party and greater segments of the American Jewish communities.

Washington’s unconditional support for Israel has come with a heavy price for Palestine in terms of countless human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity, in the form of an apartheid system, which expanded under Republicans and Democrats alike.

If the show must go on, it needs to take a different, more confident approach based on fairness and common sense; one that, for a starter, recognises the need for equal rights among the equal number of Jews and Palestinians now living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

If he is truly serious about the peace rather than process, Biden should make it clear to Israelis and Palestinians ahead of their upcoming elections, that the US will stand with those who stand for freedom and justice for all, not the few.