Mondoweiss / August 25, 2021
As Naftali Bennett launches a charm offensive in Washington, Israel lobbyists say Joe Biden should go along with the charade to overcome his loss of international standing from Afghanistan.
Tomorrow, the new American President Joe Biden is due to have his first meeting (ever, reportedly) with the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett; and the Israel lobby is working hard to argue that the American president needs Bennett a lot more than Bennett needs him, so as to shore up his battered reputation internationally post-Afghanistan.
So the U.S. should do even more for Israel, and offer lip service on the principle that Biden said was at the core of his foreign policy– human rights– when it comes to Palestinians living under conditions leading human rights groups agree is apartheid and the ICC is investigating as war crimes.
Aaron David Miller at CNN writes that Biden needs this meeting “desperately.” Why? Because the Afghanistan crisis has damaged U.S. relationships with allies and Biden can “project the confidence and assurance of a president consulting closely with a core US partner.”
Biden also needs Bennett for domestic political reasons, Miller says. Here he means the power of the Israel lobby inside the U.S. The Gaza war last May left the Democrats divided over Palestine, which is very bad politics, Miller observes, and Bennett’s appearance can restore the appearance of “bipartisanship” because he will reach out to Democrats as his wily predecessor Netanyahu did not, and allow Biden to “manage the Palestinian issue” by offering “practical steps” on Palestinian freedom.
That sounds a lot like lip service. Bennett is vehemently opposed to a Palestinian state; and all agree that the two leaders are likely to say very little about Palestinian rights.
Axios says the two leaders have decided on conflict management: “conditions aren’t ripe for direct peace talks and that they should instead focus on improving the situation on the ground.”
Ilan Goldenberg formerly of the Obama administration echoes that point. Biden will not make any “major push publicly on the Palestinian issue, but maybe hopefully [will get] some kind of private concessions, or at least a willingness to work behind the scenes on positive things.” he told the Israel Policy Forum, a centrist Israel lobby group.
Israeli reporter Tal Schneider said on the same call that Bennett wants the issue to go away.
“The best outcome for Bennett is if the Palestinian issue would not be on the [joint] statement… or on the statement but in very soft words.”
In meeting the secretary of state today, Bennett reportedly said: “There won’t be negotiation, but Israel’s interest is stabilizing situation of Palestinians.”
As Beth Miller of Jewish Voice for Peace observes:
“A stable violent apartheid regime is still a violent apartheid regime”.
On to geopolitics: Bennett and the special relationship with Israel are offered by the Israel lobby as Biden’s necessary crutch in international affairs.
At the Hill, Michael Makovsky and John Hannah of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (a neoconservative think-tank) say Biden needs Israel so that he can restore American geopolitical credibility in the wake of the Afghan withdrawal. “As the US steps out of the Middle East, it must help Israel step up,” they write.
So the U.S. should give Israel even more money in military aid.
“Biden and Bennett should launch a systematic dialogue on reconceiving the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership for the 21st century — with Israel increasingly assuming the front-line burdens for regional security as Washington shifts to a more over-the-horizon role.”
“Such an effort will require even greater U.S. support for Israel, beyond the $3.8 billion it currently receives annually… Israel urgently needs KC-46 aerial refueling tankers, thousands more precision-guided munitions and bunker-busting bombs, and more F-35s.’
Tal Schneider echoed this theme on the Israel Policy Forum call. Israelis are freaked out by the Afghanistan withdrawal. They think the U.S. is empowering Israel’s enemies across the Middle East.
“Israelis look at Afghanistan with horror. It’s all over the news….It’s hurtful to the United States’ stance and reputation. The Israelis are looking at it, holding their breath. ‘They are like, What is going on with the U.S.? How can the Americans assist these people, which were similar– the women and the people who were in civil engagement, it’s really scary to see that and it’s not good. Because Some of those terror organizations, the others, the Iranian guards, and all the people in Lebanon, Hezbollah, people in the Muslim Brotherhood and so on– they must be very cheerful and maybe encouraged by what they see. maybe they get ideas re Israel being maybe the front proxy of the United States, it’s a target all the time.’
Once again, Israel is playing on the worst elements of U.S. foreign policy. And our occupation and “counter-terrorism” policy rationalize Israel’s occupation and anti-terror ideology.
Schneider is concerned by the reports of the U.S. negotiations with the Taliban. “What does this say about negotiation with Hamas? It’s a terrorist organization,” Schneider says. Both the U.S. and Israel have refused to talk to Hamas under any circumstances. Has the policy now changed? she says.
These comments reflect the core truth here: Israel needs the U.S. a lot more than we need Israel. And Schneider says that Bennett really needs Biden, to shore up his own image in Israel as a political weakling.
“Going to DC is very crucial for his image and reputation… This is really crucial for him to have a good couple of minutes with Biden on camera. The hugs shouldn’t be too strong, because obviously this is a Democratic president and people here in Israel kind of liked Trump… [but] he needs help. It’s like a baby, it’s taking its first steps in depolarizing Israeli society.”
“Israel is only 73, always feels so fragile. The big uncle can help by giving some applause.”
She says Bennett deserves applause for sitting in coalition with a Palestinian party, and Biden can point to that in making a case for bipartisan support for Israel.
The sad part is that the White House is likely to follow the Schneider/Miller/Makovsky script tomorrow, because it is fears that if it spoke about human rights it would politicize the Israel issue and dividing the Democratic Party.
So the White House will whitewash Israeli apartheid and Palestinian home demolitions and the killings of Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank.
Jewish Voice for Peace dismisses the Bennett tour as a “charm offensive” to show he is nicer than Netanyahu.
“Same oppression, different Prime Minister.”
As for liberal Zionists, Americans for Peace Now is urging the White House to use the meeting to stop Bennett’s de facto annexation policies and insist that settlements are illegal.
And the IfNotNow organization of young anti-occupation Jews says that American Jews want Biden to talk about apartheid.
“President Biden has repeatedly committed to putting human rights at the center of American foreign policy. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Bennett is not shy about his long-standing views supporting Israel’s apartheid system and opposing Palestinian human rights. We urge Biden to go into tomorrow’s meeting with Bennett ready to apply this commitment consistently, rather than holding Israel to a lower standard than the rest of the world.”
I wish they were right about American Jews, but I believe the center-right Israel lobby represents Jewish opinion 50-and-over and they have political power.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006