While President-elect Joe Biden’s team signals a revival of multilateralism in the United States foreign policy and an end to the chaos-ridden international system, uncertainly looms with regard to the upcoming administration’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This yet-to-be solved issue of colonialism is viewed by most US politicians as a serious security issue for Israel and therefore for the US. With Goebbelesian precision defined by the Zionist ideology, the two countries have zealously been promoting the narrative on Israel’s insecurity to silence the Palestinians’ cry freedom.
To hope that the Biden administration’s foreign policy will be driven by a desire for world peace and global justice is to ignore the shenanigans of national interest-based geopolitics and the Israeli lobby’s influence on US politics. Since Israel was established through an unfair and unjust United Nations resolution on November 29, 73 years ago, the US administrations have stood with Israel and justified or whitewashed almost all its crimes although international law experts and human rights groups see them as war crimes or crimes against humanity.
This Sunday, world peace activists will mark the UN-designated International Day for Solidarity with the Palestinian people to highlight their plight and their fast thinning chances to establish a state of their own with East Jerusalem as their capital.
It was no secret that the outgoing Donald Trump administration dealt the Palestinians blow after blow, suppressed their freedom struggle, and added more misery on them. The Trump administration recognized the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and shifted the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite the international consensus being that the holy city is an occupied territory.
The Trump administration also recognized and justified illegal settlements Israel has been building in occupied Palestinian territories. During his recent visit to an illegal Israeli settlement town, the outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an ardent Zionist, insisted that the products from these illegal settlements should carry the made-in-Israel label instead of the product-of-Israeli settlement label which allows consumers worldwide to use their discretion to buy or boycott the product.
"This Sunday, world peace activists will mark the UN-designated International Day for Solidarity with the Palestinian people to highlight their plight and their fast thinning chances to establish a state of their own with East Jerusalem as their capital"
The Trump administration marketed a preposterous peace plan drafted by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a no expert of the Palestinian crisis, as the deal of the century and dismissed as irrelevant the 1967 borders recognized by multiple UN resolutions. To force the Palestinian leadership to accept the deal, Trump halted more than US$ 300 million annual contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which looks after the welfare of the displaced Palestinian people.
The Kushner plan reduced the final Palestinian territory to just 17 percent of historic Palestine and made the future Palestinian state looked like a parched Bantustan with its jugular vein in the grip of Israel, which will control the water resources and the connectivity between the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through tunnels and roads going through Israeli territories. The plan gave everything Israel wanted and offered little or no concessions – except vague promises of investments worth billions of dollars -- to the Palestinians for them to at least sit back and have a look at it. The series of hostile Trump administration moves forced the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, to sever links with the Trump administration.
Thankfully, the Kushner plan received little or no international support though some Arab nations that subsequently signed so-called peace agreements with Israel are said to have given their tacit approval.
Now that the Trump administration is in the garbage of history, the burden is on the Biden presidency to undo the injustice done to the Palestinian people. But this is unlikely.
The Biden team has indicated it would not withdraw the US recognition granted to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, though it may oppose the illegal settlement activities, which Israel had expedited in anticipation of a Trump defeat.
Though disappointed by the pro-Israeli bias of the Biden team, the Palestinian leadership hopes the stalled peace process can be restored to push forward their right to an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Interestingly, the Barack Obama-led US administration, in which Biden was the Vice President, engineered the UN Security Council resolution 2334 during the lame duck days of the Obama presidency following the 2016 Trump victory. The resolution condemned “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character, and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967,” including “the construction and expansion of settlements” and “the demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.”
Biden himself once famously said he was a Christian Zionist, but he has also opposed the rightwing policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Also of some concern to the Palestinian peace activists is the Biden team members’ deep roots with Israel. Among them was Tony Blinken, the Secretary of State nominee. He is Jewish and a step grandson of a Holocaust survivor. Though he is expected to guide the US re-entry into multilateralism which the Trump administration shunned, questions remain as to his impartiality as he is regarded as a friend of Israel.
Biden’s chief of staff nominee Ron Klain is also Jewish but opposes illegal settlement activities in occupied Palestine. Then there is Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, whose husband is Jewish. She has appeared before the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the all powerful Israeli lobby, and extended her unstinted support to Israel, raising doubts about her credibility as a progressive. She had also slammed Obama for not vetoing Resolution 2334 that condemned Israel’s illegal settlement activities.
Perhaps for the Palestinians the consolation comes from the fact that in the Democratic Party, there is a strong progressive faction which include Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the four-women Squad comprising Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley and Rashida Tlaib — all House of Representative members. Biden might do well to remember that if the progressives had not stuck together with him, it would have been Trump who would be preparing for the January 20 inauguration. The progressives insist that any support to Israel should be conditioned upon its respect for human rights and international law.
Biden is not also unaware that President Obama’s first official overseas call to a foreign leader was to Palestinian leader Abbas in 2008 and it signalled the Obama-Biden administration’s middle path on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is also interesting to note that speaking in support of Resolution 2334 in the Security Council was the then Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been included in the Biden cabinet as special envoy for Climate Change. We have to wait and see whether Kerry and other Obama administration officials who supported the resolution can influence the Biden administration’s Palestinian policy. Most Obama era officials, including the then National Security Advisor Susan Rice, one of the hidden hands behind Resolution 2334, are expected to make a comeback.
As a confidence-building measure, the Biden team can begin its peace moves by addressing the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories after the Palestinian Authority as a mark of protest refused to accept the tax revenue collected by Israel on its behalf. Adding to their woes is the growing COVID-19 cases with health services at breaking points and essential medicine in short supply.