Biden administration continues to disregard the Palestinian people

Joe Biden (Gage Skismore - Flickr)

Mitchell Plitnick

Mondoweiss  /  June 17, 2022

Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to Palestine in July will serve as yet another message to the Palestinian people that Israel is working hand in hand with the U.S.

When Joe Biden won the 2020 election, little was expected of him regarding the struggle for Palestinian rights. He had the advantage of replacing Donald Trump, who had surpassed his predecessors in supporting extreme Israeli goals, so he was bound to look good by comparison. 

Being better than Trump, is an extremely low standard, and while Biden has met it, he has been better than Trump only by the thinnest of margins. In fact, Biden has managed to fail to meet even the lowered expectations he himself set. While he has not taken major steps in Israel’s favor as Trump did, the day to day lives of Palestinians continue to deteriorate under his watch. 

His upcoming trip to Israel and the West Bank in July is unlikely to change that.

In trying to repair the relationship between Washington and Ramallah, Biden initially promised three measures. One was the restoration of funds to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which had been halted by the Donald Trump administration. This was the one thing Biden accomplished  as Israel did not oppose it and he didn’t need congressional cooperation to do it. 

Biden’s other two commitments—reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and allowing the PLO to reopen their Washington office—have not been fulfilled, and there is no reason to believe they ever will be. Both of those commitments require significant cooperation from Israel or Congress, and that, as expected, has not been forthcoming. The fact that the Biden administration has made no serious effort to persuade either of those entities to change their stance is what is most notable. 

These promises were made to the Palestinians and it strains credibility to believe the Biden team was unaware that there were steps that needed to be taken with Israel and Congress to fulfill them. They must have known, yet they don’t seem to have ever been prepared to exert any political effort to convince a recalcitrant Congress and a rejectionist Israel to accommodate these  commitments. The message this sends to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people is clear.

The rhetoric coming out of the Biden administration has been as consistent as it has been empty. They have consistently stated that they support a two-state solution and they want to take steps to “ensure equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity to Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

But the administration’s actions directly belie that statement. The absence of any attempt even to seriously discuss Palestinian rights with Israel demonstrates that clearly, and the specific examples are too numerous to list. 

Recently, the United States rejected a Palestinian Authority request to restart peace talks based on the 1967 borders. That should comport with Biden administration policy, but they refused based on the precarious political situation in Israel, where the coalition government has lost key votes, is now in the minority, and is fraying quickly. 

A Palestinian source told the Israeli daily Haaretz that, “They (the Americans) talk as if only Israel has a government and public opinion that has to be considered. What about Palestinian public opinion and what about the aggression against Palestinians?” 

Behind this statement of outrage is the reality that the PA has lost the faith of the Palestinian people, and with good reason. But whatever the PA’s own failings may be, the United States has undermined them at every turn, and has sent the message that, while the U.S. will work to block any Palestinian effort to turn to international institutions and the popular support they have around the world, it will also do nothing to help Palestinians negotiate with Israel. That the U.S. is turning its back even on the PA which has been so eager to work with Washington is a clear demonstration of American disdain for all Palestinians. 

The American attitude about aggression toward Palestinians couldn’t be clearer than it has been since Israel’s killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Despite at least four independent, fully transparent investigations by CNN, the Associated Press, Bellingcat, and most recently, the Washington Post, the Biden administration continues to call for an “independent, transparent investigation,” which is clearly code for an Israeli one. 

The Biden team has simply dismissed the eyewitness testimony of Palestinians who were with or near Shireen when she was killed, for no apparent reason aside from their being Palestinian. No doubt, Biden will, during his July visit to Bethlehem, rebuff Palestinian inquiries about the killing and simply repeat to the Israelis that they want a “transparent, independent investigation.” 

Instead of addressing the apartheid conditions and daily, severe human rights violations Palestinians are continuing to endure, the Biden administration tossed crumbs to the Palestinian Authority, by for example, upgrading the Palestinian Affairs Unit to the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs and having it report directly to the State Department, rather than to the U.S. embassy. It’s a minor diplomatic nicety that, in a productive and friendly atmosphere might be greeted with thanks. But it makes little practical difference and, in the current atmosphere it hardly mitigates the fact that, as one Palestinian official put it, “the [U.S.] government.. may be different from the Trump administration in terms of terminology – but as far as we can see (it) hasn’t made any political changes.”

Biden has made it clear that he will not take steps to undo the damage Trump did by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, nor will he revoke the United States’ illegal recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The administration is, on the other hand, laser-focused on expanding the Abraham Accords.

They’re not wrong. Biden has made it clear that he will not take steps to undo the damage Trump did by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, nor will he revoke the United States’ illegal recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The administration is, on the other hand, laser-focused on expanding the Abraham Accords, and plans to use this trip to move Saudi-Israeli relations forward toward normalization. 

Biden insisted that the planned meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who Biden once called a “pariah,” was not about energy prices, but this is an obvious lie. Biden will go to MBS, hat in hand, and plead for lower energy prices and cooperation with Israel. But the Saudi King Salman remains opposed to normalization with Israel outside the framework of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the Saudis are already coordinating with Israel on security matters. So Biden is demeaning himself for what will likely be no reason, as OPEC has already announced plans to increase oil production in July and August (an increase which is likely to be reversed in time for the U.S. primary elections in November). 

Meanwhile, the Palestinian people face an ever-tightening occupation, yet one would see no indication of this in Washington.

If Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken started their term reluctant to rock the Israeli boat, they are now terrified that anything they do that plays poorly in Israel risks toppling the government of Naftali Bennett and could lead to the return of Benjamin Netanyahu. With Democrats already poised to lose big in the midterms and Biden’s popularity at historic lows, they don’t want an Israeli prime minister who will actively work with Republicans to further diminish the Democrats’ position. 

That means throwing the Palestinians even further under the bus. It means ignoring settlement expansion, the increasing violence of settlers and the Israeli soldiers and police, and congressional letters calling for the president to try to stop the mass evictions of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta. And it certainly means turning a blind eye to ongoing apartheid. 

Biden’s trip in July is not likely to do much for him, or for the United States. But it will be yet another message to the Palestinian people that Israel is working hand in hand with the United States. And whether a Democrat or a Republican is in the White House, that isn’t going to change.

Mitchell Plitnick is the president of ReThinking Foreign Policy; he is the co-author, with Marc Lamont Hill, of Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics