As the dust settled in Gaza, the 46th President of the United States sent his Secretary of State to Jerusalem. Antony Blinken’s mission was to reaffirm the Biden Administration’s “ironclad commitment to Israel’s security”. On the Palestinian side of the barrier fence, Blinken was to “ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza in a way that benefits the people there and not Hamas”. Whilst this rhetoric sounds positive, what does President Biden’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict really mean?
On May 5th, a day before the initial clashes in Sheikh Jarrah, the U.S. Congress was notified that the Biden Administration had approved a $735 million precision-guided missile deal from Boeing with Israel. As the Palestinian death toll increased, the progressives in the Democratic Party began criticising President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza. More than 500 Democratic staffers have signed an open letter to the President to do more to protect the Palestinians and hold Israel to account. A group from within Biden’s party, including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced resolutions to block the deal.
“At a moment when U.S. made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate. I believe that the United States must help lead the way to a peaceful and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians. We need to take a hard look at whether the sale of these weapons is actually helping do that, or whether it is simply fuelling conflict.” – Bernie Sanders
There is precedent for a President to use his influence over Israel to force a peace. Republican icon Ronald Reagan held up the transfer of fighter jets until Israel removed its forces from Lebanon. Another Republican President, George H W Bush blocked $10 billion in loan guarantees until Israel halted the settlement construction of settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. Despite general bipartisan support for Israel, previous President’s have held Tel Aviv to account.
However, after Trump and Netanyahu’s mutual embrace, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the US considers Israel’s settlement of Palestinian lands as perfectly legal, Biden seems reticent to disrupt this new status quo. Beyond the geopolitical motivation to reaffirm Israel as America’s primary foothold in the Middle East after they withdraw from Afghanistan, or the domestic rational of playing to the Evangelical Christian Zionist base that supported his predecessor, Biden clearly presented his primary motivation in a 2007 interview: “I am a Zionist”.
My party still supports Israel. Let’s get something straight here. Until the region says unequivocally they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace. President Biden, May 21st 2021
Despite potential dissent from within his party, internationally, President Biden seems to see himself as the master-puppeteer playing Fatah, Iran, and Israel off against one another. Biden has made promises to rebuild Gaza, restated his support for a two-state solution and is reopening the US East Jerusalem Consulate to rekindle formal diplomatic ties with Palestine. In Ramallah, Antony Blinken met with Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas to “engage with and provide support to the Palestinian People”. In contrast, when he met with Benjamin Netanyahu, the two reportedly tangled over President Biden’s efforts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran, who are now helping to fund Hamas. By selling weapons to Israel but also supporting rapprochement with Iran, and promising financial support to Gaza but not securing Palestinian elections, Biden is deliberately inconsistent in his actions whilst playing a cynical political game to maintain American hegemony.
As for President Biden’s proposed reconstruction of Gaza, which has been estimated to cost billions of dollars, no concrete plan has yet been announced. It is unlikely that pressure from within his own party will ensure that the price tag will equal the $3.8 billion of aid given to Israel in the last year.
by Matt Thomson, NCF Research Officer