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Palestine advocates slam Biden's 'victory lap' over Gaza ceasefire

White House sent an email on Friday highlighting comments from pro-Israel advocates and others praising Biden for role in securing truce
Israeli air strike in Gaza City, 14 May (Reuters)
By Ali Harb in Washington

As Palestinians were still looking for survivors under the rubble in Gaza, the White House officially tried to claim victory, citing praise by pro-Israel lawmakers and advocacy groups for President Joe Biden's handling of the crisis.

The administration's approach of unquestioning public support for Israel coupled with what officials have called "quiet" and "relentless" diplomacy had earned rebuke from progressives.

On Friday, the White House sent an email to reporters titled, "WHAT THEY ARE SAYING: President Biden's Remarks on the Ceasefire in the Middle East." 

It included remarks lauding the US administration by dozens of Congress members, analysts and pro-Israel lobby groups, including AIPAC. Missing from it was any Palestinian, Arab or Muslim American voices.

Palestinian rights advocates are rejecting giving Biden credit for the truce that went into effect early on Friday, blaming him for prolonging the war by blocking UN Security Council calls for an immediate ceasefire.

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"This is delusional," said Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). "You have hundreds of Palestinians who are dead; you have children who are dead; Gaza was destroyed. So why this victory lap?"

White House compiles praise for Biden

The email from the White House contained lavishing praise of Biden from centrist Democrats and Democratic Party-aligned commentators.

"He won't get credit for it, but President Biden has managed to thread a seemingly impossible needle in bringing about a ceasefire in the Middle East," says a tweet cited in the email by the Palmer Report, a political blog that regularly attacks Republicans and progressives.

"It's a reminder that diplomacy doesn't consist of foot stomping or mean tweets, but using the leverage you have behind the scenes."

Biden had refused to criticise any actions by Israel, including the bombing of a building that housed media offices in Gaza, repeatedly emphasising what he called "Israel's right to defend itself."

Even before the violence erupted in Gaza, the US administration failed to condemn Israeli efforts to forcibly displace Palestinian families in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, merely expressing "concern" about Israel's policies.

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The forcible evictions and raids by Israeli forces on al-Aqsa Mosque are what prompted Hamas to fire rockets into Israel.

Since then, Israel killed at least 248 Palestinians in Gaza, including 66 children. Rockets killed 12 on the Israeli side, including one child.

"We are deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in the Silwan neighborhood and in Sheikh Jarrah, many of whom have lived in those homes for generations," a US State Department spokesperson told MEE earlier this month, days before Israel began its bombing campaign on Gaza.

"As we have consistently said, it is critical to avoid unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace, this includes evictions, settlement activity and home demolitions."

To this day, the administration has not issued a statement explicitly calling on the Israeli government to end the eviction campaign in Jerusalem.

In 2020, while serving as an adviser to the Biden campaign, Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), an AIPAC-linked advocacy group, to avoid airing disagreements with Israel publicly.

The administration appears to be sticking to that pledge to the point of resisting demands for a public call for an immediate ceasefire from dozens of US lawmakers over the past week.

Ayoub said the administration must pressure Israel publicly to end abuses against Palestinians. 

"We have low expectations for the administration on Israel," he told MEE. "With this move, they've gone even lower than what we anticipated."

'Chilling and laughable'

The United States provides $3.8bn in military aid to Israel annually, and Biden has categorically rejected conditioning the aid to using it as leverage to pressure the Israeli government.

Friday's email from the White House references social media posts from both DMFI and AIPAC, thanking the president for his "pro-Israel statements" and "unwavering commitment to Israel's security".

Ayoub accused Biden of amplifying "hate groups" with the email. DMFI has faced criticism over controversial statements from two of its board members - including a 2018 tweet calling for burning Gaza and a more recent post mocking an anti-occupation Jewish activist for announcing her engagement to a Muslim man.

'The orchestrated praise for the Biden administration’s role in today’s ceasefire is alternately chilling and laughable'

- Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN

Meanwhile, AIPAC is running digital ads against US lawmakers critical of Israel linking them to Hamas. One post shows a photo of Black Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar against a background of rockets flying over Tel Aviv.

The White House did not respond to MEE's request for comment.

"The orchestrated praise for the Biden administration’s role in today’s ceasefire is alternately chilling and laughable, given the true face of Biden’s 'diplomacy' in this conflict," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

"Biden ensured that Israel could keep bombarding Gaza for a week by single-handedly blocking four UNSC ceasefire resolutions - which otherwise had unanimous support - and dutifully replenished Israel’s military arsenal with a fresh, $735 million supply of weaponry."

Whitson added that Americans' perception of the conflict is what has changed from previous wars.

"The only thing that’s different now is that Americans are increasingly connecting the dots and vocally refusing to tolerate America’s complicity in Israel’s apartheid and war crimes," she told MEE.

'Arm around Israel'

The White House is insisting through others' comments that its strategy was a success. "The 'arm around Israel' technique worked," a tweet by former US diplomat Martin Indyk, highlighted by the White House, says.

The technique describes the approach of supporting Israel and embracing it while pushing it towards US policy goals.

"Maybe this is why 40 years later there's no violence and the problem is totally solved," Matt Duss, a foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders, wrote in response to Indyk earlier on Friday.

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In a phone interview, Palestinian-American activist Rasha Mubarak echoed what many Palestine solidarity activists have been saying since the truce was announced late on Thursday: "The struggle for the freedom and liberation of the Palestinian people is not going to end at the ceasefire."

In fact, hours after the violence ended in Gaza, Israeli forces stormed al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and attacked worshippers.

Mubarak said Palestinian rights activists have no trust in the White House, which she accused of repeating the same pro-Israel talking points of previous administrations over the past decades.

This war, however, "feels different", she added, highlighting increased global awareness of abuses against Palestinian human rights.

"You cannot deny what's happening," Mubarak told MEE. "Part of it is that AIPAC and these organisations have lost the credibility in their narrative - and the justification for Israel's actions, it has no teeth; people are turning their head with confusion."

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