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As Biden sweeps away Trump's damaging policies, Israel still gets a free pass

If change towards resolving Palestinian human rights is to come during the Biden presidency, it won't come from the White House
Joe Biden, then the US vice president, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands in Jerusalem in March 2016 (AFP)

US President Joe Biden’s first week in the Oval Office delivered a stunning rebuke to the cruel and heinous policies of the Trump administration, reaffirming his campaign pledge to advance democracy and global human rights - with one notable exception: Israel.

Sure, Biden’s immediate focus is combatting the Covid-19 pandemic, which is killing thousands of Americans every day. He has also found time to reverse a number of former President Donald Trump’s harmful policies

Yet save for the decision to restore aid to the Palestinians, some of the policies that continue to negatively affect the Palestinian people have remained intact. 

While Biden has put human rights at the forefront of his stated intent to “reassess” US ties with Saudi Arabia, a similar consideration has not been telegraphed for Israel, despite its denial of basic human rights to Palestinians, including freedom of movement, healthcare, housing, education and equality under the law.

Palestinian refugees

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Biden has reversed the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban, calling it a “moral blight” that “separated loved ones, inflicting pain that will ripple for years to come”. 

But when it comes to travel bans, Palestinians - particularly the two million who remain permanently caged in Gaza’s open-air prison, and millions more scattered across refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria - know better than anyone the cruelty of being separated from loved ones and unable to return home. Their Israeli-enforced travel ban has spanned seven decades.

He left out the part in which hundreds of thousands of illegal Jewish settlers remain the central obstacle to an independent Palestinian state

The Biden administration has also promised to end US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, saying it has contributed to “the worst humanitarian situation anywhere in the world” - and yet, nothing on the unliveable conditions that Israel’s illegal blockade has forced upon Gaza, where two-thirds of young adults are now unemployed and 97 percent of the water supply is undrinkable.

In China, the Biden administration has described the state’s persecution of Uighur Muslims as a “genocide”, arguing: “Forcing men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to in effect re-educate them to be adherents to the Chinese Communist Party - all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”

Palestinians have also been subjected to decades of state terrorism, theft, dispossession and ethnic cleansing. Surely their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is equal to that of Uighurs, Yemenis and Muslim migrants?

Aid to Israel

Moreover, it’s patently hypocritical to condition military assistance to Saudi Arabia on human rights concerns, but not the billions of dollars the US government gives to Israel each year. Either this administration doesn’t see the Palestinian people as worthy victims of oppression, or it just doesn’t care.

Last May, Tony Blinken, who is now the secretary of state, assured a pro-Israel group that a Biden administration would “not tie military assistance to Israel to any political decisions that it makes. Period. Full stop.” The term “political decisions” is a veiled reference to Israel’s human rights and international law violations, which have sparked global outrage.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives for a media briefing in Washington on 27 January 2021 (AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives for a media briefing in Washington on 27 January 2021 (AFP)

As former President Barack Obama’s presidency drew to a close in 2016, Blinken, who served as deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, bragged on Twitter about having “done more for Israel’s security than any [administration] before”. When grilled by Republicans during his recent Senate confirmation, he replied “yes and yes” when asked whether he agreed that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and whether he would commit to keeping the US embassy there.

Astonishingly, Blinken even lauded the Trump administration for coercing Arab and African countries into signing bogus “peace deals” with Israel, despite the fact that none of the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco or Sudan was in a state of war against Israel.

Normalising occupation

These normalisation deals serve only to normalise Israel’s occupation, colonialism and system of apartheid in the Palestinian territories, while delivering billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Arab and African dictators and despots.

Yet, Blinken said this about them during his confirmation hearing: “I think there are a number of things, from where I sat, that the Trump administration did beyond our borders that I would applaud … The work that was done to push forward on normalisation with Israel, I applaud. It makes Israel safer, it makes the region safer, it’s a good thing. I would hope we can build on that.”

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Blinken said nothing of illegal Israeli settlements, only offering boilerplate statements about resuming the “peace process” and working towards a “so-called two-state solution”, which he described as a “challenging” process. He added: “I think realistically, it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.” He left out the part in which hundreds of thousands of illegal Jewish settlers remain the central obstacle to an independent Palestinian state.

More telling is the fact that both Blinken and Biden have expressed opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to hold Israel in compliance with international and human rights laws through non-violent protest, mirroring the political means and methods that decades ago brought an end to racial segregation in the United States and later in South Africa.

Progressive voices

Equally troubling are comments made by Biden’s envoy to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who has asserted that the Palestinian-led BDS movement “verges on antisemitism” and has vowed to “stand with Israel” at the UN.

What’s clear is that if change towards resolving Palestinian human rights is to come during the Biden presidency, it won’t come from the White House, but rather from the growing progressive caucus in Congress, where an increasing number of younger voices are demanding an end to the world’s most enduring illegal occupation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

CJ Werleman is a journalist, columnist and analyst on conflict and terrorism.
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