By Ray Hanania
US President Joe Biden’s move to oppose the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate potential war crimes in the Occupied Territories jeopardizes all of the promises he has given and actions he has taken to empower Arab Americans.
During his presidential election campaign, Biden outlined what was basically a new attitude toward the rights and needs of Arab Americans. As a result of his “Plan for Partnership” with the community, Arab American voters came out in force to support him, even though Biden has declared several times during his career that he is a “Zionist.”
On taking office in January, Biden immediately revoked President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban,” which prohibited citizens from eight of the world’s 50 predominantly Muslim nations from entering the US. He has also appointed nearly a dozen Arab Americans to second-level positions in his administration.
The new president’s gestures and rhetoric in support of Arab and Muslim rights raised expectations that unfair past American policies might change. However, Biden has quickly found himself caught in the middle of the Israelis and the Palestinians, being criticized by the leaders of both communities as they fight over last week’s ICC decision.
Ironically, the ICC investigation won’t just focus on Israel. While the court announced that it will investigate the Israel Defense Forces and actions taken by some officials, it will also look at potential war crimes committed by Palestinian militant groups like Hamas.
Biden’s decision not to withdraw the US sanctions on ICC officials introduced by his predecessor last year creates even greater concern among the Palestinians.
Despite all of the peace efforts made since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, the Palestinians have never truly been treated equally by American administrations. It is true that Trump’s policies were more direct than his Democratic predecessors and he may have slighted the Palestinians, but he also pushed for the talks that cleared the way for the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab countries. Arabs who support these agreements have argued that, despite Trump’s anti-Palestinian posturing, they could create an atmosphere that makes peace between Israel and the Palestinians easier to achieve. The Palestinians, however, have not accepted that argument.
Biden has taken Israel’s side on the issue of the ICC, mimicking Tel Aviv’s argument that neither Israel nor Palestine qualify as parties to the court and therefore do not fall under its jurisdiction. Tel Aviv is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and the White House argues that Palestine is not a sovereign state and therefore cannot be a member of the ICC.
When the Washington media, which has often favored Biden over Trump, turned the tables and asked if the new administration was embracing the same policies as its predecessor, State Department spokesperson Ned Price got into a heated exchange that made headlines for the tone and not the substance.
Although Biden still seems to have the support of the Arab American and Muslim communities, the ICC controversy is like throwing cold water in their faces.
The Arab Americans given White House positions have also quickly been forced on to the defensive. Reema Dodin was one of the first Arab Americans to be named to a Biden post. She is deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and will be responsible for advancing the president’s legislative agenda in Congress. But pro-Israel critics attacked her by digging up social media posts in which she challenged Israel’s “apartheid” policies.
Her experience became a warning to the other Arab Americans appointed by Biden. As a result, most have cleansed their social media accounts of past criticism of Israel and made their profiles private. They have also declined to do interviews, fearing that their words will fuel further attacks by pro-Israel extremists. Rather than showcasing these appointments by encouraging them to do interviews, especially in April, which is National Arab American Heritage month, “Biden’s Arabs” appear to have circled the wagons.
The bottom line comes down to what Biden can achieve. In reactivating White House support for the two-state solution, Biden is restoring hope for peace between Israel and Palestine. If he can achieve peace, none of the concerns or criticism will mean anything. But even the most ardent pursuers have failed on this front and it is very likely that the anger in the Palestinian and Arab American communities will only grow.