Why Biden Can’t Look Away From the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis

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The Palestinians-Israelis conflict has seen an uptick at a moment of inflection — not only in Israeli politics, where Benjamin Netanyahu’s future as prime minister is in doubt — but also in terms of the United States’ approach to Israel (America’s pivot to Asia). While the staunchly conservative Netanyahu closely aligned himself with President Donald Trump over the past four years, Democratic leaders in Washington have increasingly shown a willingness to criticize some elements of the Israeli government’s approach, particularly its support for settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods and territories.

Photo courtesy @MZahrol

The NY Times article notes that:
— Israel has the right to continue “defending itself” but also its “extra burden” to prevent civilian deaths -Israeli strikes had killed Palestinian children.
— There’s the urgency of a difficult situation more than any burning desire by the Biden administration to play peacekeeper.
— The conflict comes at a moment of inflection — not only in Israeli politics, where Benjamin Netanyahu’s future as prime minister is in doubt — but also in terms of the United States’ approach to Israel.
— President Trump announced in 2017 that he would recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a move that was seen as essentially condoning the Israeli government’s push into Palestinian-held land.
— There was an easy alliance between Trump and Netanyahu. It wasn’t a direct swap — “You support me and I will give you annexation of East Jerusalem” — but it was nearly that. Netanyahu always praised Trump, and Trump gave Netanyahu what he wanted, which was Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.


A scene at an Israeli airport. Photo courtesy @Rimas_Rosa

According to Mark Perry (speaking with the NYT), a senior analyst at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank that advocates military restraint, “support for Israel in Washington used to be bipartisan”. “Both parties supported Israel almost unconditionally. And the Jewish-American vote was primarily Democratic. But Israel shifted that position in the 1990s and early 2000s”. “I distinctly remember Israeli leaders coming here and kind of recruiting the evangelical Christian community — and that community is Republican.”

It was an easy alliance between Trump and Netanyahu. It wasn’t a direct swap — “You support me and I will give you annexation of East Jerusalem” — but it was nearly that. Netanyahu always praised Trump, and Trump gave Netanyahu what he wanted, which was Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

“Now, Israeli leaders will say that the reason they did that is that their support in the Democratic Party was eroding. And particularly among Jewish Americans, there was growing disaffection with Israeli policies.”

Prayer at a Gaza mosque. Photo courtesy @Chaxhmixh

“And that’s had an effect on the Democratic Party. It is now possible for stalwart supporters of Israel to question Israeli policies and principles. So the change in the political calculus among Israel’s leaders has resulted in a change in the political calculus among Democrats and Republicans, and the parties’ leadership. And this has incredible implications for a guy like Joe Biden.”

“…the Israeli-Palestinian issue just sucked up so much air in previous Democratic administrations that he’s really hesitant to allow that to happen again. We’ve got other equities in the Middle East other than Israel.”

“We’re not in charge of the relationship with Israel, and we need to be. They’re in charge, and they’ve been in charge because they’ve always been able to count on bipartisan support in Congress. That is now changing.”

Photo courtesy @xebany

Biden’s option

“One option is to do what no other U.S. president has ever done, and that is to issue a statement like the one he issued on Saudi Arabia: “We support you, but our support is not unconditional. We expect that Israel will take steps to ensure the rights of the people they occupy.”

“He would have support among a large number of Jewish Americans. Remember the battle over the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the Democratic plank? That was a sign of what’s coming. There were Democrats who supported Israel who saw the logic in saying that America’s support is conditioned on Israel’s support for human rights. And that Palestinians have a right to land and their freedom. If he would do that, the change that that could bring about could be unprecedented.”

“America’s pivot to Asia has not left a vacuum in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now conducting back-channel diplomacy with Iran. If Israel was to suddenly realize that America will no longer support them in every instance, they might make the moves that they have needed to make the last 70 years, and actually engage in diplomacy with their neighbors to a degree that they haven’t.”

Photo courtesy @SiBedah_

“Pushing back on Israel, and signaling to them that our support is conditional, is not an invitation to Egypt and Jordan to attack Israel. Were they to do so, they’d be defeated in 24 hours. We’d come to Israel’s support…the fact that our support is conditional doesn’t mean they’re not an ally. Our support for allies has always been conditional…we’re not in charge of the relationship with Israel, and we need to be. They’re in charge, and they’ve been in charge because they’ve always been able to count on bipartisan support in Congress. That is now changing.”

According to Amb. G R Baloch, a Pakistan-based foreign affairs observer, “Violence suits Netanyahu to cling on to power and it suits the extreme right in the U.S. to distract Biden from Iran re-engagement. I am concerned that Israel will extend its borders and eat into Ghaza and push a large population into the West Bank and into Jordon. A large Palestinian exodus can’t be ruled out. That the world must prevent from happening.”

An Asia-Pacific based analyst and author of several books on US-China relations and South Asia tells DesPardes that it’s difficult to see Biden say anything other than Israel has the right to self-defense.

According to him, “Since the1956 Suez Crisis, the USA displaced Britain and France as the dominant power across the MENA region. US protection of Israel enabled its rise as the region’s strongest military and sci-tech power and the only nuclear weapons state in the region. Many US presidents have sought to bring peace to the region, but the basic premise has been the assurance of Israeli military per-eminence across the region. Biden might, for grand strategic reasons, seek to revive the JCPOA with Iran, even at the cost of Israeli displeasure, but he is unlikely to question Israel on the Palestine issue which is now marginal even among the Arabs and the Muslims. Neither Palestinians nor their sympathizers have any leverage at all in Washington or Jerusalem, and so, it is difficult to see Biden say anything other than ‘Israel has the right to self-defense’. That is exactly what he has said.”

The original article appeared in NY Times