Foreign Policy

If Biden needs Israeli-Palestinian peace, he should break with the previous

In 1967, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan embodied the Israeli triumph after the Six Day War when he said to Nahum Goldmann, the veteran American Zionist leader, “Our American friends offer us money, weapons and advice. We take the money, we take the guns, and we turn down the advice. “The statement reflected a widespread belief that Israel could take US support for granted.

"What if America ever told you, if you followed the advice, the only way to help?" Goldmann asked him. Dayan replied resignedly: "Then we should also follow the advice."

In short, here lies the fundamental flaw in the US approach to peacemaking in the Middle East since 1967: the unconditional nature of its economic, military and diplomatic support for Israel. The United States has posed as an honest broker, but in practice it has acted more like Israel's lawyer. This has made his policy of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict incoherent, contradicting and self-destructive.

Since 1967, Washington has built a monopoly on diplomacy related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, marginalizing the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League and the Kremlin. Ultimately, however, it failed because it was unable or unwilling to use its massive leverage to push Israel to a final status deal. Israel is the United States' most difficult customer because it is not only a foreign policy issue, but also a domestic one.

US President-elect Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel throughout his long political career. He has a consistent pro-Israel vote record in the Senate. Israel is "the best $ 3 billion investment we are making," he declared in the Senate in 1986. "If it weren't for Israel," he added, "the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect our interests in the EU." Region. "Biden is not only a passionate Zionist, he considers the conditioning of military aid to Israel a" gigantic mistake "and" absolutely outrageous ".

During his eight years as US Vice President, Biden has done a lot to improve his already brilliant Zionist credentials. Then President Barack Obama himself saw Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace. He tried to get a settlement freeze to give diplomacy a chance. But all of his efforts and those of then Secretary of State John Kerry were sabotaged by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's right-wing prime minister.

Despite his excellent support for Israel and his pride in his personal friendship with Netanyahu, Biden did not escape Israel's standard practice of biting the hand that feeds it. When Biden arrived in Israel in 2010, he was greeted with an announcement that the Cabinet had approved a new series of illegal settlements in the West Bank. Biden endured the calculated insult meekly, confirming the Israelis' conviction that they could continue to repay the US's generosity with ingratitude and contempt.

In its final year in office, the Obama administration provided Israel with a military aid package worth at least $ 38 billion over a period of 10 years. This was the largest military aid package in history. In accordance with Biden's rules, no conditions were attached to the aid.

On one point, however, Obama overruled his vice president in the twilight of their administration: a United States Security Council resolution that strongly condemned the expansion of the Israeli settlement. The resolution was consistent with US foreign policy. Biden wanted to use the US veto to thwart the resolution. Obama chose to abstain and landmark Resolution 2334 was passed by 14 votes.

When Biden enters the White House on January 20, Israel and Palestine will be at the bottom of his priority list. At some point, however, this problem will have to be addressed, if only because of its central role in Middle East politics. His first assignment will be to grapple with the toxic legacy of Donald Trump, the most fanatical pro-Israeli president in US history. Towards the Middle East as a whole, Trump had less of a coherent foreign policy than a series of impulsive and ill-considered moves, many of which violated international legality.

With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump was completely consistent – in his partisanship towards Israel. Its foreign policy was practically indistinguishable from the agenda of the Israeli right: recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights; US Embassy moves from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; Abolition of the US Consulate General in Jerusalem, the US's main channel of communication with the Palestinian Authority; Reduction of all US funds from the US agency dealing with Palestinian refugees; Withdrawal of crucial US aid to Palestinians; and closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington.

Trump's polarizing partisanship culminated in a plan for the future of Israel and the Occupied Territories, which he vociferously called the "deal of the century". In essence, it wasn't a peace plan at all, but a free pass to expand Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. She called on Israel to officially annex around 30 percent of the West Bank, including the illegal settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley, the bread basket of the Palestinian people.

Predictably, the Palestinian Authority rejected the plan and refused to discuss it at all. Netanyahu welcomed the plan but did not take any action to implement it as he saw no benefit in the formal annexation of parts of the West Bank. He is satisfied with the status quo, which gives Israel a free hand to continue its creeping annexation without triggering international sanctions.

It can be predicted with certainty that Biden is only embarking on damage control, and not the sweeping reversal of Trump's toxic legacy. The president-elect pledged immediate steps to restore much-needed economic and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. He pledged to reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem but promised not to bring the US embassy back to Tel Aviv. He opposes the expansion of the settlement and the formal annexation of part of the West Bank by Israel, but continues to refuse to tie US aid to Israel’s human rights record or compliance with international law. And it is firmly linked to the pre-Trump policy of preferring a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In short, Biden is likely to revert to the Democratic Party's traditional line of proposing the United States as a so-called honest broker to help the two parties reach a negotiated solution. In practice, this means reviving the so-called "peace process" until Netanyahu derails it in 2014 and then no longer serves its own purpose.

But the peace process has always been a charade – all process and no peace. It did not get the Palestinians any closer to achieving their goal of independence and statehood in the 27 years that have passed since the first Oslo Accords were signed on the White House lawn and with the reluctant handshake between then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the then PLO leader were Yasser Arafat. The peace process has given Israel the cover it needed to continue an aggressive colonial project across the Green Line – the pre-1967 international border.

If Biden wants a truly lasting peace, he must first recognize that the United States' unconditional commitment to Israel, with which he was so closely allied, did not achieve the stated goal of a two-state solution at all. Today it has become fashionable to say that the two-state solution is dead. The sheer size of the West Bank settlements, home to more than 650,000 Jews, precludes the possibility of a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state. As a result, the Palestinian side, if not the Palestinian Authority's side, increasingly supports the idea of ​​a democratic state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean with equal rights for all citizens.

Biden would never embrace such a radical idea. If he sticks to the old idea of ​​two states, he should at least consider the changes that have taken place in Israel and the region over the last two or three decades. Israel has steadily moved to the right, with alarming manifestations of jingoism and racism and an increasing emphasis on the Jewish rather than the democratic aspect of its identity. The July 2018 nation-state law effectively turns Israel into an apartheid state by asserting that the Jews in the territory it ruled have a "unique" right to national self-determination.

In addition to recognizing the illiberal and anti-democratic tendencies in Israeli politics, Biden would need to develop a real strategic dialogue with the Palestinians, distancing himself from the policies of his predecessor and recognizing that the Palestinians have legitimate national rights and these command overwhelming popular support the entire Arab and Muslim world.

Changes in the regional balance of power must also be taken into account. The most important change is that the Persian Gulf states no longer see Israel as an enemy and a threat, but as a strategic ally in their conflict with Iran. A related change is the significant decline in the commitment of the Gulf States to the cause of an independent Palestinian state. In the second half of 2020, four Arab states normalized their relations with Israel under the Abrahamic Agreement: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Israel welcomes a peace agreement with any Arab state, especially if it is free, as it has been for the past four years. But the big price is Saudi Arabia. Unlike the smaller Gulf States, Saudi Arabia has a lot to lose by openly betraying the Palestinians. There is a risk of backlash at home and in parts of the Islamic world. So far, the kingdom has resisted pressure from the US to officially express its covert intelligence and security cooperation with Israel.

She stands by her commitment to the Palestinians and to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which offered Israel peace and normalization with all 22 members of the Arab League as a reward for withdrawing from the entire occupied Arab land and agreeing to an independent Palestinian state in the west Bank and Gaza Strip with a capital in East Jerusalem. It also calls for a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem on the basis of United States Resolution 194.

This was the real deal of the century. The Palestinian Authority under Arafat immediately accepted the initiative. The Israeli government under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected the initiative as a "non-starter". The Arab League reaffirmed the Arab Peace Initiative at its 2007 and 2017 summits. But in 2018 Netanyahu refused it as a basis for future negotiations with the Palestinians, and no US government has ever put pressure on Israel to accept it.

If Biden wants to make a real impact, the best thing is to revive the Arab peace initiative and use it as the basis for US-led Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. This would result in penalties for Israel's intransigence. On the other hand, it would encourage and enable Saudi Arabia to board the peace train. A courageous US leader would enjoy widespread international support, including the Arab world, the Islamic world, the European Union, and most members of the United Nations.

Last but not least, it would have the support of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the majority of American Jews. Young American Jews in particular are disappointed with Israel because of its colonialism, systematic abuse of Palestinian human rights, and habitual violations of international law. Only a minority of American Jews still subscribe to the traditional policies of blind support for Israel advocated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

If Biden were to take on the mantle of peacemaker, he would first have to free US foreign policy from the dead hand of the Israeli government and its acolytes in the United States and have the political courage to follow Goldmann's suggestion: that US aid is conditional make on US advice to be followed. Like any other politician, the elected president can repeat the mistakes of the past. However, this is not absolutely necessary.

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