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The Bankruptcy Of Biden Middle East Policy – OpEd

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent an underling named Barbara Leaf to the Middle East to do…something. We’re not sure what.  But news reports say she had two messages: one for Israel and another for the PA.  The latter is so pissed off at the Americans and Israelis, that octogenarian PA Pres. Mahmoud Abbas refused to meet her.  Instead, she had to be satisfied with meeting Abbas’ number 2, Hussein al-Sheikh.

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She apparently wanted to lecture them about what a bad idea it would be to apply for UN membership.  Of course, she didn’t say why it was a bad idea.  But presumably, she mouthed the pablum that it would alienate the Israels and make it impossible for a deal.  Likely she also threatened to veto statehood if it came before the Security Council.  Imagine, a country which claims to support a two-state solution vetoing an attempt by Palestinians to establish…a state.  This of course, proves that two-states is a cruel mirage.  It doesn’t exist and can never exist.  No one believes in it, even if they say they do.  Deeds matter, words are cheap and mean nothing.  Blinken and Biden can shower the Middle East with lots of words.  But they’re unwilling to actually do anything.  This is beyond hypocrisy. It’s actually toxic and makes anysolution impossible If you say “there is a solution” when there isn’t, you’re creating a cruel mirage, which blocks any real solution.

Sheikh noted that, in criticizing the US for bringing no new proposals or improvement of conditions for Palestinians.  In other words, despite any pressure or suasion the US attempted with the Israelis, it failed.  And Leaf came to Ramallah empty-handed.

Here are the paltry crumbs she served up to the Palestinians:

The U.S. wants Israel to help by implementing several of the steps it committed to during Biden’s trip, including easing delays Palestinians experience when traveling through the Allenby bridge and allowing the installation of 4G cellular networks in the West Bank.

That’s it: we offer to slightly ease the suffocating Israeli control of all entry and exit points from the West Bank.  And we’ll urge the Israelis to install an already out-of-date cellular network.  A network, by the way, which the IDF Unit 8200 intercepts in a massive datamining operation, to identify and recruit informants and smoke out future terrorists.

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As I’ve said here before: what does the US take Palestinians for?  Fools?  That they will be hoodwinked into believing they’re being offered anything meaningful, when they’re actually offered gornisht?  That they are so desperate that they will be satisfied with crumbs, instead of rights?

U.S. asks Israel: please, pretty please, be nice to Palestinians

For the Israelis, Leaf told them pretty-please stop killing Palestinians. Stop the nightly raids and murder of Palestinians.  Oh, and could you please be nicer to the PA?  To which the Israelis responded, as the cell phone ad said: “I can’t hear you!!”

The Palestinians, on the other hand, argued that unrest in their towns is directly related to Israeli escalation of violence against them:

Al-Sheikh said Palestinian officials responded by saying the U.S. needs to “press Israel to stop its unilateral steps on the ground and its incursions into Palestinian cities.”

…They think the IDF will operate during the night and we will operate during the day? We can’t function when the Israeli military enters our cities every day arresting people and killing people. What do they expect?” al-Sheikh said.

…”Israel is the one who weakens the Palestinian Authority by choking it economically and then it complains that our security forces are weak. We have been telling the Israelis for a year now their actions weaken the Palestinian Authority and lead to an escalation.”

Essentially, Israel wants the PA security services to do its dirty work for it.  And when the Palestinians aren’t up to the job, then Israel berates them for not living up to expectations.  But as Sheikh said, why should the PA be Israel’s attack dog?  What motivation has Israel given the PA?  When you demand something of someone and offer nothing in return, that’s a raw deal.  You shouldn’t expect anyone to agree to such a charade.

Israel’s excuse for refusing to act on the US request for a cessation of violence has been used before many times:

…[Shin Bet chief Ronen] Bar told Leaf the Shin Bet supports strengthening the PA, but it’s harder to make decisions at this time because of November’s election in Israel.

Whenever a reporter asks the State Department why it’s not doing more to pressure the Israelis, they trot out the same argument. Things are delicate.  We don’t want to cause any conflict that might harm the election prospects of the moderates we prefer.  All the while, refusing to acknowledge that the ‘moderates’ are hardly different than the extremists we profess to abhor.

Here’s an example of the shameful brutal violence of Israeli Occupation forces against a Palestinian girl. Notice how many male Border Police thugs it takes to subdue a 70 lb. girl, in addition to the beating she endures at their hands…or clubs.  This is the sort of brutality the US asks politely that the Israeli stop:

PM Lapid had a characteristic Israeli response to the American pressure to restrain Israeli killings of Palestinians (euphemistically called “the rules of engagement”).:

“I hear the calls to change our rules of engagement,” he says.

…“The IDF never intentionally shoots at innocent people. We are deeply committed to some of the most stringent rules of engagement in the world,” Lapid says.

“But to be clear, I will not allow an IDF soldier that was protecting himself from terrorist fire to be prosecuted just to receive applause from abroad,” Lapid continues.

“No one will dictate our rules of engagement to us, when we are the ones fighting for our lives. Our soldiers have the full backing of the government of Israel and the people of Israel,” he adds.

Even if you concede that his response was intended for a domestic audience, it is an expression of naked defiance and a slap in the face to the Biden administration.  It permits Israel to continue with its war crimes against Palestinians safe in the knowledge the US cannot and will not hold it accountable, even for the murder of acclaimed Palestinian journalist and US citizen, Shireen Abu Akleh.

It’s a mystery why Israel has mounted hundreds of these raids over the past few weeks.  They might be in response to the four terror attacks inside Israel last spring.  Most of the attackers were from Jenin, and most of the IDF raids have been there as well.  Possibly, the success of the Palestinian attacks has spurred others to engage in similar acts of resistance.

Possibly, after the recent assault on Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Israel has adopted a get-tough attitude on any and all forms of resistance.  Though that seems unlikely.

Both the US and Israel complain that the PA is losing control of towns like Jenin and Nablus, where militant activity is on the rise.  They demand that Abbas do whatever needs to be done to rein in the militancy:

Shin Bet director Ronen Bar, who leads the Israeli domestic security service in charge of gathering intelligence in the West Bank and Gaza, told Leaf he is highly concerned about the PA’s situation and the ability of the Palestinian security forces to function…

That’s putting the cart before the horse.  Resistance does not arise spontaneously with no motivating force.  It is in response to Israeli acts of violence–just like the brutal raids in which Israeli troops send hundreds of soldiers into towns, break down doors, trash homes, arrest scores of residents.  This is what spurs resistance. If Israel wanted to restore calm it would end these provocations.

But Israel has no strategy.  Its strategy is cold, hard brutality.  Hit them hard, Keep hitting them until…well they don’t know until what.  Because there’s no end in sight.  And that’s perfectly fine for the Israelis who chug along quite nicely thank you. The economy is humming. There’s money to be made. Luxuries to buy. Exports of weapons and surveillance technology are a major part of this success.  Most Israelis are living the good life thanks to being Sparta-by-the-Sea.

So if oppression of the Palestinians is the price Israel pays for its luxuries, it seems cheap and worthwhile.  Farm the violence out to the army. Let the 18-year-olds do the dirty work in the streets of Hebron and Jenin and Shuafat, while we enjoy our lattes in Tel Aviv cafes.  As far as Israelis are concerned, they could keep this up forever.  And probably will until the world wakes up and forces Israel to accept a deal it’s been resisting for decades. But the chances of that, at least now, are nil.

This article was published at Tikun Olam

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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