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May 25th, 2024

Reality Check

Biden's Mideast diplomacy isn't advancing peace --- or democracy

Jonathan Tobin

By Jonathan Tobin JNS

Published February 3, 2023

Biden's Mideast diplomacy isn't advancing peace --- or democracy
During U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Jerusalem this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did his best to act as if the U.S.-Israel relationship had never been better. Netanyahu praised Blinken and President Joe Biden with the usual boilerplate rhetoric about the strength of the alliance. He also pointed to America's standing by Israel while it is subjected to terrorist attacks, such as the massacre last week at a Jerusalem synagogue.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant did the same,using his meeting with Blinken to emphasize what Israel hopes will be a unified policy with the United States on the Iranian nuclear threat — now that the Biden administration's effort to revive the Obama-era appeasement policy toward Tehran has clearly failed.

The wrong message

Nevertheless, Blinken's visit said much more about what is wrong with the alliance and American Middle East policy than what is right. Though he condemned the terror attack and argued for Israel's right to self-defense, he also demanded "calm" from both Israel and the Palestinians. This conveyed a bad message vis-à-vis Washington's stance on the Palestinian Authority's "pay for slay" policy — of providing salaries and pensions to terrorists and their families –and inability to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

Blinken's failure to hold P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the uptick in terrorism, which he wrongly attributed to the lack of a viable peace process, made it clear that Washington wasn't interested in addressing the real reasons for the violence.

Just as bad, his thinly veiled attack on the Netanyahu government's judicial-reform proposals was the kind of blatant intervention in Israel's domestic politics that the Democratic administration wouldn't tolerate from any other country that expressed an opinion about its policies.

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It's true that the U.S.-Israel alliance could be in worse shape than it is. The Biden administration does have the distinction of being the first American government in a half century that didn't enter office fixated on the idea of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was as true of the Trump administration as of its predecessors, though it eventually switched to a much more productive policy aimed at normalizing relations between Israel and other Arab states.

Biden's team is a devout believer in the myth that the two-state solution is the only path to a resolution of the conflict. But even Biden and Blinken understand that the Palestinians are no more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel than they were during the Obama administration (under which most of the current crew served), in spite of the latter's having tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the P.A..

The failure of their determined efforts to revive an even worse version of Obama's disastrous nuclear deal — one that would guarantee, rather than prevent, an Iranian bomb — has also brought Washington closer to Jerusalem. With Iran not only spurning the Biden team's ardent wooing, but intervening on behalf of Moscow in the Russia-Ukraine war (the Americans' foreign-policy obsession), has made the Democrats' much-hoped-for rapprochement with Tehran impossible.

It's hard to take seriously Blinken's claim that a "military option" was still on the table to stop an Iranian breakout to a nuclear weapon. There's no reason to believe that Biden has any intention of taking such a step, no matter the provocation. What's more, by stripping U.S. forces of arms and ammunition in order to meet Ukraine's needs, he has made any American military intervention elsewhere even more unlikely.

Still, Washington and Jerusalem are now sounding some of the same notes on this existential threat to Israel's existence. This puts Israel — and its Arab allies in the Gulf — in a much stronger position to resist Iran's ambitions in the region.

But Blinken's pronouncements also illustrated how destructive the Biden administration's Middle East policies can be, while demonstrating that toppling Netanyahu is one of its objectives.

Biden's and Blinken's rhetoric about standing by Israel was undermined by the moral equivalence inherent in their call for de-escalation from both sides. The assumption of the foreign-policy establishment and international media that recent events are another example of a "cycle of violence" is false.

The lack of peace and upsurge in terror are solely the fault of a Palestinian leadership incapable of envisioning an identity for its people that isn't linked to its century-old war on Zionism and the Jews. This is why P.A. rhetoric, media reportage and school curricula are filled with incitement to violence and glorification of "martyrs" killed in the process of murdering Jews.

Nor did Blinken use his meeting with Abbas to criticize Ramallah's "pay for slay" policy. The administration has sought every means to evade enforcing the Taylor Force Act, which bans U.S. aid to the P.A. until it ceases funding terrorists.

Just as bad, Blinken said the U.S. would give an additional $50 million to UNRWA, the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee agency that continues to help perpetuate the conflict. By touting a future with a Palestinian state — without making clear that the primary obstacle has always been the refusal of the Palestinians to give up their fantasy of Israel's extinction — the secretary is merely ensuring another generation of bloodshed.

Undermining Netanyahu

No less outrageous were Blinken's lectures to Netanyahu about preserving democracy. No Israeli, least of all the prime minister, failed to understand what he meant. Blinken said that "support for core democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, the equal administration of justice for all, the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law, free press, a robust civil society."

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And if anyone was in doubt about that being a swipe at the Israeli government's efforts to promote much-needed judicial reforms, he followed it up by saying that "building consensus for new proposals is the most effective way to ensure they're embraced, and that they endure."

Those lines were straight out of the Israeli opposition's playbook. They signaled Washington's rejection of efforts to restrain an out-of-control Israeli Supreme Court that seeks to protect the power of leftist elites and override the will of the Israeli voters in a manner that no American politician would tolerate from U.S. courts.

In other words, the Biden administration is treating the government that garnered a majority of Knesset seats on Nov. 1 as essentially illegitimate. Far from protecting democracy in Israel, the Americans want to thwart it in order to overthrow a prime minister and coalition that will not meekly follow orders from Washington — something Netanyahu's opponents have shown they will gladly do.

Biden may not be headed down the same peace-process rabbit hole as Obama and other American presidents. But Blinken's latest trip to the Middle East did more to ensure that there will be many more Palestinian terror atrocities in the future than to console the Israeli victims of the most recent such crimes.

And by trying to encourage Netanyahu's detractors to topple a government that won a clear electoral victory less than three months ago, Blinken was hypocritically demonstrating that liberals in both countries only believe that the results of democratic elections should be respected when they or their allies win them.

Seen in that light, the U.S.-Israel alliance is nowhere near as strong as everyone is pretending it to be. This should worry genuine friends of peace and democracy in both countries.

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Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of Jewish News Syndicate. He's been a JWR contributor since 1998.

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