Bland U.S. Response to Israel’s Palestinian Policy Signals Much Worse

T. Belman. Pinkas says that an escalation of violence will destabilize Jordan and undermine normalization with Saudi Arabia.  In my opinion, destabilizing Jordan is a good thing and clamping down on the Palestinians won’t retard normalization with SA. SA has already indicated that it won’t be subservient to the Palestinian cause.

Any escalation in the West Bank will undermine efforts the U.S. is making to facilitate an upgrade in Saudi-Israeli relations and also destabilize Jordan. So why is Washington refusing to get involved?

By Alon Pinkas, HAARETZ

Palestinians checking a car burned by Israeli settlers during clashes near Ramallah in the West Bank last month.Credit: ALI SAWAFTA/REUTERS

In a week where it seemed the West Bank was engulfed in a perfect storm of violence with a built-in escalatory mechanism, the United States mostly remained disinterested and standoffish.

There were the predictable platitudes from the State Department about the U.S. administration feeling “concerned,” being “troubled” by reports of settler violence and Palestinian terror, and the inevitable call for all sides to show “restraint.” These are the diplomatic equivalents of the sanctimonious, eye-rolling “thoughts and prayers” that American politicians resort to immediately after yet another in the endless chain of U.S. mass shootings.

The most logical and convenient explanation for the U.S.’ conspicuous inaction is that it just doesn’t care enough. Priorities have changed, no vital or prime foreign policy interest is being threatened and any return to the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire is an unwanted distraction. Secretary of State Antony Blinken just completed a successful trip to Beijing; President Joe Biden is hosting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is following both the Russia-Ukraine war, the Korean Peninsula and NATO enlargement. Allocating attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue is like a surprise root canal without sedation.

The U.S. response, or lack thereof, makes perfect diplomatic sense. However, a closer look at the potential for escalation suggests that the Biden administration is misjudging things.

To begin with, Wednesday’s Israeli settler violence and lawlessness was not limited to the village of Turmus Ayya, near the settlement of Eli where four Israelis were murdered by Palestinian gunmen on Tuesday. It was all over the West Bank, with the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police either losing control or standing idly by.

Ironically, in last Friday’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, the previous IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. (res.) Aviv Kochavi, opined that “today, the IDF has full control of Judea and Samaria.” Judging by Tuesday and Wednesday’s events, it has anything but full control of the West Bank.

There are also the government’s policies, beginning with its declaration that there will be no diplomatic process with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme, nationalistic government also just announced plans for thousands of new homes in the settlements, stating that “Jews have an exclusive right to settle the entire ‘Land of Israel,’” and hinting that annexation of large parts of the West Bank is just a matter of time.

Then there is the Palestinian side, where the supposed quasi-sovereign, the Palestinian Authority, is on the verge of economic collapse, political implosion and potential future voluntary dissolution.

The convergence of these developments is a conflagration the United States “cannot ignore,” since it renders “one state” as the only plausible outcome in the region. But actually they can ignore this, and this is the daunting signal being sent.<

Any escalation will reverberate and undermine the efforts the Americans are making to facilitate an upgrade in Saudi-Israeli relations, and also destabilize Jordan. Yet the United States is reluctant to project its power.

In the last decade, there has not been any significant U.S. involvement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Their last mediation efforts – then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy in 2014 – ended in a predictable and hopeless impasse, and capped almost a decade of U.S. efforts that produced virtually nothing.

With prolonged, damaging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a resurgent China, the Americans began a process of critical reprioritization of their foreign policy. Consequentially, that process also contained a reevaluation of Mideast policy and a cost-benefit examination of policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The conclusion of three consecutive administrations – those of Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Biden – was that it does not justify or merit Washington’s time, energy, resources or political capital. The downside was ominously clear; the upside was doubtful or unattainable.

With its strategic pivot to the Indo-Pacific theater, with China being the big challenge and rival, America’s interest in the perennial Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” was reduced to urging everyone to avoid escalation and making sure the violence doesn’t spill over.

It was all based on a simple and reasonable premise: “The Americans cannot want peace more than the parties” – a principle expressed in desperation and resignation many times since the Camp David Summit in July 2000 and the publication of “the Clinton parameters” (summarizing what was agreed upon, and the contours of an agreement as the U.S. conceivably sees it).

Regarding the current U.S. reaction, in fairness there is a visible and tangible change in tone. Six full months into his term, Mr. Netanyahu has conspicuously not been invited to the White House – a combination of U.S. resentment over his constitutional assault on democracy and his Palestinian policy. Blinken pungently criticized Netanyahu in January for endangering the “shared values” between the two countries. A similar statement was made by Biden in The New York Times in February, while dozens of congressional Democrats have expressed their concerns in unequivocal terms.

Biden, like most of his predecessors and their secretaries of state, is reticent to confront Israel. Above and beyond the fundamental support for Israel, the overriding logic is the political dictum “What’s in it for us?” To which the political answer is: “Absolutely nothing.”

There’s a conventional wisdom, or myth, in Washington that picking a fight with Israel is costly in terms of domestic politics, attracts criticism and lacks a clear benefit, so why bother? Entering an election year, it becomes a distraction and needless expenditure of political capital.

That is wrong. This would be a confrontation on substance and policy, not style. On actual different philosophies and approaches to policies.

Second, this would not be a core disagreement with Israel – which remains an ally – but with the government of Mr. Netanyahu, who has a habit of alienating U.S. administrations. His ruling coalition clearly asserts that on the Palestinian issue, it is light years away from the U.S. approach and that there is no such thing as a “two-state solution.”

Third, calling Israel to order will not cost Biden or any other Democrat one single Jewish vote or one single dollar in campaign contributions. On average, since the 1950s when data began being collected, 75 percent of American Jews vote Democratic in both presidential and congressional elections. The combination of Netanyahu deliberately turning Israel into a partisan wedge issue in the United States, and Republicans enthusiastically endorsing this against both Bill Clinton and Obama, makes the argument irrelevant today.

Fourth, there are precedents that Biden should heed. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and, to a lesser extent, Obama have proved that once you make legitimate policy criticism of Israel a public matter, you win the debate.

Biden’s irritation with Netanyahu may primarily be about him being a nuisance, but it has become an acute policy schism on both Israeli democracy and the Palestinian issue.

The United States can mumble about its “commitment to a two-state solution” all it wants, but Israeli policies and inertia are turning this into a patently unviable possibility, and the U.S. is staying silent and aloof. That should worry Israelis, not Americans.<

Pinkas served as Chief of Staff to Shlomo Ben-Ami and David Levy (Ministers of Foreign Affairs). He was a foreign policy advisor for Ehud Barak and political advisor to Shimon Peres.[1] From 2000 to 2004, Pinkas served as Consul General of Israel in New York City.[3] 

June 23, 2023 | 2 Comments »

Leave a Reply

2 Comments / 2 Comments

  1. Same old same old. No need to support Israel. Just disparagement. If Israeli private persons decide to protect themselves rather than depending on the IDF and the government, then Biden has lost control of the situation. The attempt to lever the non-existent Saudi deal which is based on unrealistic conditions to reign in the Israelis is actually a non-starter.

  2. Can I say Schmuck! Borderline traitor? Putz…The author should move and live with the “Palestinians” . And someone paid him for writing this…