The U.S. president needs to take back U.S. policy from the Israel lobby and should stop backing Israel’s extremist and utterly illegal policies.
The cabinet of Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is filled with religious extremists who believe that Israel’s brutality in Gaza is at God’s command. According to the Book of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible, dated by scholars to the 7th century BC, God promised the land to the Jewish people and instructed them to destroy the other nations living in the promised land. This text is used by extreme nationalists in Israel today, including by many of the 700,000 or so Israeli settlers living in occupied Palestinian lands in violation of international law. Netanyahu pursues the religious ideology of 7th century BC in the 21st century.
Of course, the vast majority of the world today, including the vast majority of Americans, are certainly not in line with Israel’s religious zealots. The world is far more interested in the 1948 Genocide Convention than in the genocides supposedly ordained by God in the Book of Joshua. They don’t accept the Biblical idea that Israel should kill or expel the people of Palestine from their own land. The two-state solution is the declared policy of the world community, as enshrined by the UN Security Council, and of the U.S. government.
President Joe Biden is therefore caught between the powerful Israel Lobby and the opinion of American voters and of the world community. Given the power of the Israel lobby, and the sums it expends in campaign contributions, Biden is trying to have it both ways: supporting Israel but not endorsing Israel’s extremism. Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken hope to entice the Arab countries into yet another open-ended peace process with the two-state solution as the distant goal that is never reached. Israeli hardliners would of course block every step of the way. Biden knows all of this but wants the fig leaf of a peace process. Biden also hoped until recently that Saudi Arabia could be lured into normalizing relations with Israel in return for F-35 fighter jets, access to nuclear technology, and a vague commitment to an eventual two-state solution... someday, somehow.
The Saudis will have none of it. They made this clear in a declaration on February 6, stating:
The Kingdom calls for the lifting of the siege on the people in Gaza; the evacuation of civilian casualties; the commitment to international laws and norms and international humanitarian law, and for moving the peace process forward in accordance with the resolutions of the Security Council and the United Nations, and the Arab Peace Initiative, which aims to find a just and comprehensive solution and establish an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as capital.
Domestically, Biden confronts AIPAC (the innocuously named American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the lead organization of the Israel lobby. AIPAC’s long-running success is to turn millions of dollars of campaign contributions into billions of dollars of U.S. aid to Israel, an amazingly high return. Currently, AIPAC aims to turn around $100 million of campaign funding for the November election into a $16 billion supplemental aid package for Israel.
So far, Biden is going along with AIPAC, even as he loses younger voters. In an Economist/YouGov poll of January 21-23, 49% of those aged 19-29 held that Israel is committing a genocide against the Palestinian civilians. Only 22% said that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, their sympathies are with Israel, versus 30% with Palestine, and the remaining 48% “about equal” or unsure. Only 21% agreed with increasing military aid to Israel. Israel has utterly alienated younger Americans.
While Biden has called for peace based on the two-state solution and a reduction of violence in Gaza, Netanyahu has brazenly brushed Biden aside, provoking Biden to call Netanyahu an asshole on several occasions. Yet it is Netanyahu, not Biden, who still calls the shots in Washington. While Biden and Blinken wring their hands at Israel’s extreme violence, Netanyahu gets the U.S. bombs and even Biden’s full backing for the $16 billion with no U.S. red lines.
To see the absurdity—and tragedy—of the situation, consider Blinken’s statement in Tel Aviv on February 7. Rather than putting any limits on Israel’s violence, made possible by the U.S., Blinken declared that “it will be up to Israelis to decide what they want to do, when they want to do it, how they want to do it. No one’s going to make those decisions for them. All that we can do is to show what the possibilities are, what the options are, what the future could be, and compare it to the alternative. And the alternative right now looks like an endless cycle of violence and destruction and despair.”
This morning, the U.S. used its veto power to kill the Algerian draft resolution in the UN Security Council calling for an immediate cease-fire, with U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield calling the effort to pass the measure "wishful" and "irresponsible." Biden has put forward a weak alternative, calling for a ceasefire “as soon as practicable,” whatever that means. In practice, it would also surely mean that Israel would simply declare a cease-fire to be “impracticable.”
Biden needs to take back U.S. policy from the Israel lobby. The U.S. should stop backing Israel’s extremist and utterly illegal policies. Nor should the U.S. spend any more funds on Israel unless and until Israel lives within international law, including the Genocide Convention, and 21st century ethics. Biden should side with the UN Security Council in calling for an immediate ceasefire and indeed in calling for an immediate move to the two-state solution, including recognition of Palestine as the 194th UN member state, a move that is more than a decade overdue since Palestine requested UN membership in 2011.
Israeli leaders have shown not the slightest compunction in killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians, displacing 2 million Gazans, and calling for ethnic cleansing. The International Court of Justice has determined that Israel may well be committing genocide, and the ICJ could make a definitive determination of genocide in the next year or two. Biden would enter history as an enabler of genocide. Yet he still has the chance to be the U.S. president who prevented genocide.
Update: This piece was updated from its original to acknowledge Tuesday's vote at the UN Security Council on Algeria's cease-fire resolution.