Biden’s moment of truth about Palestine

US President Joe Biden meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on 15 July (Thaer Ganaim - APA Images)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 15, 2022

For anyone concerned with Palestinian rights, expectations for the US president’s visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank, which concluded on Friday, were low.

However, Joe Biden surprised many by speaking the truth while visiting a Palestinian hospital in occupied East Jerusalem on Friday.

“My background and the background of my family is Irish American, and we have a long history of — not fundamentally unlike the Palestinian people with Great Britain and their attitude toward Irish-Catholics over the years, for 400 years,” the president said.

That accurate comparison of Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people to centuries of British colonization and genocide against the Irish will undoubtedly be written off as just another one of Biden’s notorious “gaffes.”

The perhaps unscripted acknowledgement is, however, belied by the Biden administration’s policies towards the Palestinians.

The president’s brief visit to the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, on Friday came after two days of meetings in Israel.

During a meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, Biden spoke of the Palestinians’ palpable “grief and frustration” but did not acknowledge the US’ particular role in perpetuating that pain.

The US president also stated his support for a two-state solution along the 1967 boundaries with “mutually agreed to [land] swaps” for the first time since he took office.

It is hardly a radical announcement, given that a two-state solution was the position of successive US administrations since the signing of the Oslo accords under Bill Clinton’s gaze up until the chaotic administration of Donald Trump.

Lip service

Not that Biden is paying anything more than lip service to a bilateral peace agreement.

The president said that the “ground is not ripe at this moment” to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Where Biden does see forward momentum, however, is in Trump’s approach of sidelining the Palestinians altogether by pursuing normalization between Israel and authoritarian Arab states – an agenda that he is pushing in Saudi Arabia, where he traveled later on Friday.

“I do believe in this moment, when Israel is improving relations with its neighbors throughout the region, we can harness that same momentum to reinvigorate the peace process between the Palestinian people and the Israelis,” he said.

The only material benefit that Palestinians received during Biden’s visit was $316 million in relief, most of it going to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees that the US stopped funding during the Trump administration.

Although this aid will support vital health and education services for Palestinian refugees, it is merely a palliative that helps maintain an unjust status quo held in place by unconditional American support for Israel.

It’s also paltry amount relative to the minimum of $3.8 billion in military assistance that Washington provides to Tel Aviv each year.

Biden did not announce that the US would reopen its consulate serving Palestinians in Jerusalem or remove the Palestine Liberation Organization from the State Department’s designated terror organization list and thus allow it to reopen its Washington office.

Both the Jerusalem consulate and the PLO office in Washington were closed during Trump’s presidency.

Nor did Biden meet with the family of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian journalist who held US citizenship and was killed by Israeli forces while covering a military raid in the West Bank during May.

The president did acknowledge Abu Akleh during his visit in Bethlehem on Friday, saying the US will continue to “insist on a full and transparent accounting” for her killing.

But all indications are that the US is fully party to an Israeli cover-up for responsibility for the iconic journalist’s death.

“Callous ambivalence”

Biden also didn’t meet with representatives of six prominent Palestinian nongovernmental organizations that Israel designated as “terrorist” groups last year.

On the eve of Biden’s arrival to Israel, nine European Union states issued a joint statement rejecting the Israeli designations.

The statement from the foreign ministries of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden said that the countries received “no substantial information … from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards” the targeted Palestinian groups.

All the states that signed the joint statement have provided funding directly or indirectly to some of the Palestinian groups.

Last month, Al-Haq, one of the targeted groups, succeeded in petitioning the European Commission to lift its suspension on funding to one of the human rights organization’s projects sponsored by the EU.

But as of Friday, the EU had not responded to a question from The Electronic Intifada as to whether it endorses the position of its nine member states.

The Charity and Security Network, based in Washington, urged Biden to press Israel to rescind its “wrongful” designations of the six Palestinian groups during his visit.

Paul Carroll, the network’s director, said that the “politically motivated terrorism designations” are an escalation of “a long-standing campaign to silence and discredit Palestinian civil society.”

“Numerous investigations have found no wrongdoing on the part of these organizations, yet on the basis of secret ‘evidence’ and coerced testimony, Israel has condemned them,” Carroll added.

“UN human rights experts, foreign governments and civil society at large have spoken out against this blatant abuse of counterterrorism laws, yet so far the Biden administration has taken a position of callous ambivalence, offering neither objection nor support for the designations,” he said.

Indeed, “callous ambivalence” is an apt description of the Biden administration’s policies towards Palestinian as a whole.

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada

Ali Abunimah contributed analysis.