Biden in Israel Was Trump With a Smile

image shows a vertical banner, held aloft by a large bunch of black and white balloons and one large green balloon. Banner reads, "Zionist" BIDEN "shares values" with Apartheid Israel.

There is so much that I found offensive about President Joe Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East, but I wanted to wait a week so I could cool off.

“First, do no harm,” the medical adage says, and yet – and my expectations were ‘zero’ – he was able in a few short days to do very much harm. Very … much … harm!!!

Anyone who knows Biden’s history knows that he has been an absolutist in his support of Israel, not caring one whit about the Palestinians. So there were no expectations for anything about justice or even fairness coming from his trip. And after four years of the highest office in the land occupied by a truly despicable person, Biden’s genial Uncle Joe persona has been welcome; yet increasingly I understand him for what his career in politics has always shown him to be – calculating and callous. Check his previous record regarding abortion rights, Anita Hill, African-American civil rights, and Israel, to name just four.

I’m sorry, but it’s just not enough for me to say, “Well, at least he’s not the other guy.” It’s just not enough for me anymore.

 + His fist-bump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, seen around the world, gave the middle finger to Jamal Khashoggi’s family; add that to his rebuff of the family of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh (more on Shireen later), who had been recently intentionally gunned down by Israeli forces (even despite the entreaties of two pro-Israel Democratic senators, Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, who urged him to bring up the matter at the “highest levels and press for accountability”), and we can only conclude that this president’s whitewash was intentional, that he doesn’t give a damn about journalists much less freedom of the press.

Add this to the report from Journalists Without Borders that “35 journalists have been killed while working in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 2000,” without any accountability for Israel. It’s just too much to ask of the President who, upon arriving in Israel couldn’t wait to declare himself “a Zionist” and declare Jerusalem “Israel’s capital”; we expect groveling from US presidents about Israel, but Biden reveled in it.

 + His fist-bump also signaled, what Biden called before his trip, “a new more promising chapter of America’s engagement” in the Middle East. He only mentioned “peace” once, and following the goals of his predecessor’s so-called “Abraham Accords,” now “integration” has become his new buzzword – he seeks a “more secure and integrated” Middle East (ah, yes, Israel’s security, while Palestinians are being shelled, evicted, dispossessed, imprisoned, ghettoized, and murdered), and “We’ll continue to advance Israel’s integration into the region.” Damn the Palestinians; full speed ahead!

 + The US-Saudi Arabia rapprochement shows just how much human rights is not only not a priority, it’s not even on the agenda. It is part of the larger US-Saudi-Israel-United Arab Emirates normalization marshalled against Shia Iran, the West’s perennial scapegoat in the region. And the US media does us no favors here. Iran is hardly innocent, but by painting it (in reverse of the mullah’s proclamation) as the region’s “great Satan,” it provides an easy target for Israel’s military build-up and the further militarization of the Middle East as a whole. And of course, it’s no coincidence that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are following Israel’s example in opposing the Iran Nuclear Deal, which Biden will let die a slow death through inaction. And this is to say nothing about the Saudi, UAE-led intervention in Yemen, a horrific humanitarian disaster, under the pretext of it being a proxy war against Iran.

 + The title of the July 13 Ha’aretz article by Noa Landau about Biden’s arrival in Israel said it best, “Nine Words Biden Uttered at Tel Aviv Airport Reveal His Policy on Israel-Palestine.” You look for motifs in presidential messages; eg. there is always mention of the “unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel” in these speeches. Listen to what she says:

But the U.S. president’s real policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue was revealed in just a few words parenthetically, muttered offhandedly and barely understood: “We’ll discuss my continued support – even though I know it’s not in the near-term – [for] a two-state solution. That remains, in my view, the best way to ensure the future of [an] equal measure of freedom, prosperity, and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians alike.” The nine words “even though I know it’s not in the near-term,” made it clearer than anything the sense of despair with which the president’s administration views the subject and how weak to nonexistent the motivation is to deal with it. Less than Obama’s and even than Trump’s.

Under Biden, it appears that the United States just wants to rid itself of the Israeli-Palestinian burden. The U.S. commitment to a two-state solution never sounded more threadbare and disparaged than in Biden’s remarks on the airport red carpet…. Biden was mainly trying to send the Israeli government a message that it can relax when it comes to the extent of diplomatic pressure he intends to apply in the course of the visit. In other words, zero pressure. While on the ground, Israel continues to expand and create West Bank settlements and retroactively authorize unauthorized outposts, along with the de facto annexation of all of Jerusalem and more, Biden’s limp message about a two-state solution … not only describe reality. They also create a reality.

 + After spending three days in Israel in which he called himself a Zionist and prostrated himself before the altar of Israel’s security, Biden spent barely two hours in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, after which he tossed out a couple of meaningless platitudes about the two-state solution, reminiscent of his predecessor tossing paper towels to the hurricane-ravaged people of Puerto Rico. He did not mention East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, said nary a word about Israel continuing to build illegal settlements in the West Bank, admitting that the “ground is not ripe at this moment” to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

But as I pointed out earlier, Biden had already allowed for the (prolonged) delay of a two-state solution, so anything he had to say to the Palestinians was merely for show, a photo-op, nothing more. Nada, nothing, platitudes.

And supremely tone-deaf at best, his lame attempt at empathy failed miserably when he compared his Irish-Catholic upbringing and his ancestors’ history in Britain with the oppression the Palestinians are experiencing.

Let me be fair. Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Biden met at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, is unpopular, corrupt, who has blocked free democratic elections in the West Bank during his 15-year reign, and does not reflect the will of the Palestinian people. But he did call on Biden to re-open the US Consulate in East Jerusalem (a Biden campaign promise thus far unfulfilled).

And to be further fair, Biden visited Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives (which my groups have often visited) where he announced $100 million in US assistance to the six hospitals in East Jerusalem. But the height of irony of Biden’s announcement of US aid was pointed out by Ubai Aboudi, the Executive Director of Bisan Center for Research & Development, “When they are sending the Israeli army unconditional military aid, and the same military equipment is used in killing Palestinians, including US citizens, then they are actively participating in the crime.”

Finally, let’s come full circle back to Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. Sure Biden mouthed the appropriate words: he acknowledged that her death was “enormous loss to the essential work of sharing with the world the story of the Palestinian people,” and the “US will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world,” yet his words rang empty as he couldn’t be bothered to pronounce her name correctly, and all this with the US State Department’s conclusion in the background that it “could not reach a definitive conclusion on who killed her.” Add to this that journalists were not allowed to ask questions during the press conference, with Palestinian journalists wearing black t-shirts with Shireen’s face on the front with the words #JusticeForShireen.

While Biden’s trip was cause for celebration in Israel, the Palestinian view was captured by two comments:

The first, by a resident of Bethlehem’s Aida Refugee Camp, Muhannad Abu Srour, “If the US won’t even seek real justice for Shireen Abu Akleh, one of their own citizens, how can we expect them to achieve justice for the Palestinian people?”

The second, by an anonymous Palestinian official immediately following Biden’s visit: “Biden represents a continuity of Trump’s policies. It's like the Trump years with a smile.”

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