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Israel-Palestine war: Biden doubles down on deeply flawed US narrative

While touting the need for a two-state solution, he continues to ignore the most pressing issue: Israel's violent, ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands
US President Joe Biden speaks in Washington on 21 November 2023 (AFP)

US President Joe Biden has once again conflated Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hamas, this time in an op-ed for the Washington Post.

The reasons why this narrative is deeply flawed have already been explained. Hamas is a Palestinian group inspired by political Islam. It believes that launching rockets against Israel, without distinguishing between military and civilian targets, will help to achieve the long overdue self-determination of the Palestinian people. In my opinion, this course of action is wrong and will not fulfill that goal.

Putin is an Orthodox Christian leader who does not hesitate to use violence to pursue what he believes are Russia’s national interests, and to protect the state’s national security.

If these two definitions sound like they could apply to other countries and persons, it is because they can. With significant caveats, the first could also be applied to Israel, and the second to Biden and his predecessors.

Israel claims to be a democracy, but its conduct is often at odds with its professed democratic values. Jewish militias used terroristic methods to achieve Israel’s independence, and there are well-founded reasons to believe that in Gaza, the Netanyahu government - increasingly inspired by religious extremism - is committing war crimes and violating international law. The shocking numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties, almost half of them children, speak for themselves.  

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As for the US, it has never hesitated to use its military power to affirm its national interests or to confront perceived threats to its national security. Former President Jimmy Carter has said that the US is “the most warlike nation in the history of the world” due to its desire to impose American values on other countries.

Is it possible that a nation on a constant war footing for at least two centuries has always been inspired by the noble instinct to spread freedom and democracy around the world? Unlikely.

In 2019 Carter also stated that “the US has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation”. For those interested in deepening their understanding of this important issue, the US Congressional Research Service has drafted an impressive report covering American history from 1798 to 2023.

Blurred distinctions

Anyone who reads that as equating Israel and Hamas, or the US and Russia, is wrong. Israel is a highly imperfect democracy; Hamas is a political movement that uses terrorism. Israel is not a terrorist state, even though it is currently terrorising the entire population of Gaza with carpet bombings. 

Increasingly, the US is also a highly imperfect democracy, while Russia is an autocracy.

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But in both comparisons, the distinctions between Israel and Hamas on the one hand, and the US and Russia on the other, have become more frequently blurred, amid inexplicable behaviours adopted by the two democracies, including their tendency to use or condone disproportionate violence and military force. Both have failed to show a shred of empathy for the plight of Palestinian civilians.

The sooner US and Israeli political elites understand how much this conduct damages their credibility, the better.

The delusion really becomes palpable when Biden notes what the US would be ready to do to make the two-state solution a reality

Biden has described the actions carried out by Hamas as “unadulterated evil”. It would be interesting to know how he would describe the decades of violence carried out by the Israeli army and settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem before 7 October, in which thousands of Palestinians have been killed.

Biden asks in the Post: “Will Israelis and Palestinians one day live side by side in peace, with two states for two peoples?” The answer is negative - at least until the US ends its biased policy of shielding Israel from all its wrongdoings. If the US was really playing the role of honest broker, the conflict would have been settled years ago. 

Despite the disproportionate casualty ratio in the current war, Biden’s op-ed places far more emphasis on the Israeli ordeal than the Palestinian one. He attributes to both Putin and Hamas the “hope to collapse broader regional stability and integration and take advantage of the ensuing disorder”.

It is unlikely that Hamas is nurturing such a broader agenda. As to Putin, the Russian leader probably acts on a different set of assumptions - ie, that US action, and complicity (such as its prolonged arming and diplomatic cover for Israel in its wars with Palestinians), is the main driver of instability in the Middle East.

Shameful passivity

Biden also mistakenly conflates US national security interests with “the good of the entire world”. In the US political establishment, this association is almost a religious belief - even as an increasing number of countries are rejecting the notion.

American security interests are so broadly defined that, especially in the last few decades, they have hurt the dignity and sovereignty of too many nations and peoples. A sort of “enough is enough” moment concerning US global hegemony is at hand.  

When the Europeans soon see the Ukrainian “hot potato” handed over to them by the Americans, they will also understand this global trend - but it may be too late.

Israeli soldiers raid the Balata camp for Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank on 23 November 2023 (AFP)
Israeli soldiers raid the Balata camp for Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank on 23 November 2023 (AFP)

Biden asserts correctly that the “cycle of unceasing violence” should be broken. It’s too bad that his administration, and all its predecessors, have been overzealous in terms of halting Palestinian violence against Israelis, but shamefully passive in stopping the daily Israeli assaults against the Palestinian people. This passivity played a significant role in creating the conditions for the 7 October terrorist attack.

Pointing to his meeting in New York with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weeks before 7 October, Biden cited “a set of substantial commitments that would help both Israel and the Palestinian territories better integrate into the broader Middle East”. 

Leaving aside that on the same occasion, Netanyahu showed the UN General Assembly a map of the Middle East where the Palestinian territories had been erased - and Washington did not utter a single word of criticism - is the US actually ready to promote such integration in a realistic fashion? 

PA delusion

Biden describes the two-state solution as “the only way to ensure the long-term security of both the Israeli and Palestinian people”. Noting that Gaza “must never again be used as a platform for terrorism”, he adds: “There must be no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, and no reduction in territory … Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority [PA].”

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He also says that "extremist violence against Palestinians" in the occupied West Bank must stop, with the US “prepared to take our own steps, including issuing visa bans against extremists attacking civilians in the West Bank”.

Such goals are generally reasonable, but as for the PA running both territories, this may be a delusion. The only way to revitalise the PA would be through elections, which have not been held since 2006. Biden never mentioned this eventuality. 

There is also another, far more important issue: would Israel want a revitalised PA, considering how well the current one has served its interests in the occupied West Bank? 

But the delusion really becomes palpable when Biden notes what the US would be ready to do to make the two-state solution a reality. He limits himself to saying that Israeli settler violence against Palestinians must stop. Take note: he does not advocate the end of the occupation, the prerequisite for such a solution. And it is unlikely that extremist Israeli settlers will be panicking over the threat of a US visa ban.

Leaving aside the well-known fact that the US political system will never allow any type of sanctions against Israel, Biden’s promotion of the two-state solution with such ridiculous measures, and an unrelentingly biased approach, will only ensure further cycles of violence for decades to come.

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

Marco Carnelos is a former Italian diplomat. He has been assigned to Somalia, Australia and the United Nations. He served in the foreign policy staff of three Italian prime ministers between 1995 and 2011. More recently he has been Middle East peace process coordinator special envoy for Syria for the Italian government and, until November 2017, Italy's ambassador to Iraq.
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