The Biden Administration's Approach to the Middle East Is Feckless—and Dangerous | Opinion

For years now, Israeli governments have brashly and unapologetically refused to hold mandated negotiations to end the occupation of Palestinian areas. The 1993 Oslo Accords called for a short interim period in which Palestinians would secure their major cities while Israel gradually put an end to its decades-long occupation of Palestinian lands taken in June 1967. Instead, Israel has expropriated more and more Palestinian land, erecting settlements in what amounts to de facto annexation.

U.S. officials in the Biden administration have been reluctant to get involved, yet a spate of killings by Israel of Palestinians in areas ostensibly under Palestinian control appear to have forced their hand. The Biden administration recently dispatched Secretary of State Antony Blinken to intervene.

As Axios' Barak Ravid reports, the U.S. asked the Palestinians to resume security coordination with Israel, which was suspended last month after a deadly raid in the West Bank city of Jenin killed 10, including an elderly lady. In return, Blinken asked Israel to pause its settlement activity in the West Bank and to stop the planned demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. The U.S. also asked the Palestinians to postpone taking action against Israel at the U.N.

Blinken and Netanyahu
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the first leg of his four-day trip to the Middle East, on May 25, 2021 in Jerusalem, Israel. Haim Zach / GPO via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stuck with an extremist coalition that he cobbled together to get back in power, did not agree to the U.S. demands, though he did pause the planned demolition of a Palestinian home housing 100 people in East Jerusalem. In a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron last Thursday, Netanyahu said he would not suspend all settlement activity in the West Bank, though he said it would be "much less" than what his far-right partners desire, Ravid reported.

America's requests to both sides might seem balanced if you know nothing about the situation. If you do, however, you know that the Americans were asking Israel to stop actions that are already illegal, at least according to the Geneva Convention. In return, the Palestinians were asked to suspend legal actions at the United Nations and to continue their role as the security subcontractors for Israel without Israel even being asked to go back to peace talks.

America's proposed pause mandates that Palestinians be denied the right of resistance, recognized by international law when it comes to an occupied people, yet simultaneously demands that Palestinian leadership work overtime to thwart resistance while being blocked from nonviolent diplomatic efforts at the U.N. to end the occupation.

Any crisis management student knows that the de-escalation of a cycle of violence requires two simultaneous acts: a ceasefire and at the same time a robust political effort aimed at addressing the root causes of the violence. Yet the Biden administration informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem last year that the time was not ripe for negotiations.

Instead, Biden's team is demanding Palestinian leaders subjugate their own people without showing any interest in recognizing or dealing with Palestinian national aspirations.

The irony is that U.S. President Joe Biden, like most other world leaders, keeps repeating ad nauseam that he supports the two-state solution, while also acknowledging that Israel is constantly engaged in making it an impossibility.

The very least that the Biden administration can do to be consistent with its own policies would be to recognize the state of Palestine and encourage Palestinian leaders and Israel to negotiate borders and other issues between them.

Palestinian officials at the UN have proposed that the U.N. Security Council recognize Palestine as a state under occupation; this alone would go a long way toward helping Palestinians and Israelis meet and resolve their differences.

The U.S. has refused such an offer and instead wants a ceasefire without any interest in a political process. What incentive is there for a sane Palestinian leader to go down a route that has no light at the end of a dark tunnel?

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on Twitter @daoudkuttab.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.