Al-Jazeera / January 30, 2023
US will continue to prop up ‘status quo’, analysts say, as Blinken visits region following spate of deadly attacks.
Washington, DC – Even compared with the volatile nature of Israel’s decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories, the last few weeks have been marked by extraordinary tensions and deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
But when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel this week, he only reiterated Washington’s longstanding positions on the conflict: an “ironclad” commitment to Israel, a call for calm, and rhetorical support for the two-state solution.
Almost everything that Blinken said during a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday was drawn — at times verbatim — from previous State Department statements.
George Bisharat, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, said the US administration views occasional eruptions of violence in Israel-Palestine as “inconveniences to be managed” while maintaining unconditional support for the Israeli government.
“From the United States’ point of view, let’s be real: They don’t give a damn about Palestinian lives,” Bisharat told Al-Jazeera.
“They only care to the extent that these flare-ups interfere with what the United States perceives to be its strategic interests in the region, which have nothing to do with human rights — of anybody, not just the Palestinians.”
Blinken’s visit comes after a Palestinian gunman on Friday fatally shot seven Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem after Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in one of the deadliest days in recent memory.
Despite the mounting tensions, the US administration is unlikely to change course soon, said Annelle Sheline, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a US-based think tank.
“The Biden administration policy towards the Middle East in general, and Israel specifically, is premised on maintaining the status quo, and not acknowledging the ways that the status quo is shifting under their feet,” Sheline told Al Jazeera.
“It is long past time for a new approach, but I don’t think we’re likely to see one,” she added.
“I haven’t seen any inclination from anyone in the administration that they’re interested in trying to pressure Israel. I think they worry about the optics of that.”
Although Biden promised to centre human rights in his foreign policy when he took office, his administration has pushed to strengthen US support for Israel, which major rights groups have accused of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.
Israel receives $3.8bn in US military aid annually, and Biden increased the assistance by $1bn last year.
Criticizing Israel still enacts a high political cost in the US, experts have pointed out, while President Joe Biden has touted his own ideological stance as a self-proclaimed Zionist.
Meanwhile, amid the Ukraine war, intensifying US competition with China and a busy domestic agenda, Israel-Palestine is far from the top of Biden’s priorities — a reality that Bisharat said cements Washington’s view of the current crisis as a minor, manageable matter.
Echoing Sheline, Bisharat said US officials waving prospects of the two-state solution only serves to maintain the status quo of indefinite Israeli occupation by treating it as temporary.
“It’s a distraction from people appreciating the reality that we have been stuck in this rut of continuing, ongoing settler colonialism in the West Bank — and all of the apartheid measures that are necessitated by it,” he said.
No public criticism of Israel
Blinken, like other officials in the Biden administration, has been reluctant to criticize Israel publicly.
The top US diplomat did not waver from that approach on Monday, as he lauded the US-Israel alliance and highlighted Washington’s efforts to further “integrate” Israel into the Middle East and strengthen its normalization deals with Arab states.
Blinken cautioned against moves that would go against the “vision” of the two-state solution, which he said would be “detrimental to Israel’s long-term security and its long-term identity as a Jewish and democratic state”.
He also failed to provide a clear answer when asked about punitive measures that Netanyahu’s government is considering imposing on families of Palestinians who carry out attacks against Israelis, including deportations and home demolitions.
“There is no question that this is a very difficult moment. We’ve seen the horrific terrorist attacks in recent days. We’ve seen over many months rising violence that is affecting so many,” Blinken said in Cairo earlier on Monday before heading to Jerusalem.
During the news conference alongside Netanyahu, he paid tribute to the seven Israelis killed by the Palestinian gunman last week.
But Blinken did not mention the at least 35 Palestinians, including eight children, killed by Israel this month, nor did he criticize Israeli settlements or make reference to Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a US citizen who was fatally shot by Israeli forces last year.
The US Department of State did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on whether Blinken raised Abu Akleh’s case with Israeli officials on Monday.
After decades of unquestioning US support for Israel, many Palestinian observers say they do not expect Blinken’s ongoing trip to bring about any change. The top US diplomat is set to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday in Ramallah.
Yara Hawari, senior analyst at the Al-Shabaka policy network, a Palestinian think tank, called Blinken’s visit to the region “insignificant”.
“Indeed, his visit so far has been textbook — he reiterated the US’s unwavering support of the Israeli apartheid regime and praised the so-called special US-Israeli relationship,” Hawari told Al Jazeera in an email.
“And let’s be clear, this is a support which is not only diplomatic but also a support that sees billions of dollars of bilateral aid and military assistance every year.”
Ali Harb is a writer based in Washington, DC