“Conflict management” results in Itamar Ben-Gvir

Two people sit at a table with American flags behind them

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and President Joe Biden have advanced double standards and failed to press Israel on its violations of international law.

Adam Schultz The White House

Democrats are all in for conflict management on behalf of Israel.

Conflict resolution? Scarcely.

Perhaps the closest the Biden administration gets to conflict resolution is to muster an occasional empty statement for a two-state solution, though that outcome would mean permanent bantustans and intensified segregation.

Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir is newly ascendant following Tuesday’s election in Israel and Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. He is one result of US funding of Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians and endless enabling of Israeli extremists from Benny Gantz to Bezalel Smotrich and beyond.

Placing election blame on Palestinians resisting apartheid is wrongheaded. This result is the inevitable consequence of indulging ethnic cleansing, apartheid and settler-colonialism for decades.

The European Union has also contributed to the election outcome by repeatedly funding and backing Israeli apartheid governments and giving every impression this could continue indefinitely.

Democrats may pat themselves on the back and insist they can do better than Donald Trump’s conflict exacerbation, but the shortcomings of punting as a strategy are clear as talk circulates of a renewed Palestinian revolt against the violence and apartheid carried out by Israel.

President Joe Biden has done nothing to push back against Trump’s policies: recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the US embassy move to Jerusalem and the precedent-setting recognition of Israel’s annexation of the occupied Golan Heights. Australia, on the other hand, in recent days did reverse course on its embassy, though it was never actually moved from Tel Aviv.

The American president has accepted that negotiations are futile – “the ground is not ripe” in his words – while failing to note they are futile because Israel is an apartheid and settler-colonial state uninterested in equal rights for Palestinians. In fact, he has lauded authoritarian Gulf states for, in effect, normalizing Israeli apartheid – as has Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel.

Biden was also silent in October as Israeli settlers and soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder in rampaging through Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied Palestinian territory. Israeli soldiers locked down a significant portion of the northern West Bank, killing Palestinians along the way.

Mainstream US media, particularly television news, have put little pressure on Biden with scant attention given to the subject. What attention is given to foreign policy generally goes to Ukraine and Iran – worthy subjects but not at the expense of almost completely displacing Palestinians from the news cycle.

Simultaneously, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is again talking up the prospects of annexing parts of the West Bank, though he acknowledges this is less likely with Biden in office.

For the Biden administration, an Israeli government can apparently do no wrong, not even a government including anti-Palestinian racists Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. On Monday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price stated, “No matter the shape of the Israeli coalition and government, our relationship will be strong and enduring.”

Nonsense and ridicule

Biden’s spokespeople and high-ranking administration officials not only back apartheid, but invite ridicule for mouthing nonsense.

When Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesperson at the State Department, says once again – as he did last month – that “Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, justice, prosperity and democracy,” does it mean anything to anybody? Or does it simply mean that the US will continue military aid to one side as Israel blocks freedom and justice for Palestinians?

There are only so many times such boilerplate can be recycled before listeners recognize it as utterly empty and devoid of meaning. Israel certainly sees it as such.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield recently did Patel one better for double standards with her claims that the UN “will not tolerate attempts at illegal annexation,” “seizing a neighbor’s land by force,” and attacking the UN Charter.

There’s one set of rules and US government rhetoric for American enemies such as Russia and an entirely different set for allies such as Israel.

Heads you lose, tails we win. The rules are whatever the United States says they are. International law is meaningless, though the US will cite it when beneficial.

The charade continues to play out in mainstream television news because so little attention is given to Israel’s crushing of Palestinian rights.

Ambassador Nides is not likely to be challenged for saying he looks “forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values.” Any verbal pressure on Netanyahu to reverse course on a right-wing coalition will lack consequences because Biden is unwilling to stand up against even the clearest expressions of anti-Palestinian racism.

The prospect of the Biden administration boycotting Ben-Gvir exists, but is unsettled. Close work with Netanyahu would, in any case, continue.

Codifying discrimination

The Biden administration is also failing to criticize Israel for having codified apartheid rules for foreigners visiting friends, loved ones and host organizations in the occupied West Bank. A US press release offering mild concern about the 90 pages of restrictions put forward by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a military body, is very different from denunciations of such discrimination.

Even with some of the most extreme measures removed from earlier drafts, the new regulations, which went into effect on 20 October, will cause misery for Palestinian families with one foreign spouse – and for travel to see friends and family outside of one’s “first-degree relative.”

Academic quotas have been removed but “random and invasive criteria” set by the Israeli military remain, according to Jessica Montell, executive director of HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organization.

Israel is doubling down on discrimination even as it continues to seek entry into the Visa Waiver Program with the United States, an ongoing priority for the Biden administration as stated in the so-called Jerusalem Declaration of July 2022 between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

The Arab American Institute has been documenting Israeli discrimination against travelers to the West Bank for many years. It says that “in light of these discriminatory practices, Congressman Don Beyer (D-Virginia) is circulating a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighting Israel’s inability to meet the statutory requirements of the Visa Waiver Program and the need to protect the rights of all American travelers, including Palestinian Americans.”

The 27 October letter included 19 other members of Congress.

Mild criticism of Israeli discrimination is not, however, conflict resolution or even effective conflict management. The Biden administration is now little more than an enabler of ever-worsening Israeli policies.

Biden’s administration is cooperating with Lapid’s version of apartheid even as Israel’s David Dukes such as Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are normalized within Israeli politics and stand on the precipice of real power.

Ben-Gvir may even be the next “internal security minister,” though uncertainty remains. If he achieves his goal, this would mean the right-wing extremist, who has twice in the past year pulled a gun on Palestinians, would oversee the police.

When the two-year trial run of COGAT’s new regulations for travelers to the West Bank ends in 2024, perhaps Trump will be on the doorstep of a second presidential term. He could well again lose the popular vote, but cruise to “victory” courtesy of the all-important electoral college with its strong tilt toward white voters in sparsely populated states.

Some crimes are foundational and enduring. From the Israeli apartheid state to a US still unwilling and unable to address aspects of its racist origin, Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir and Trump will have no qualms in denying the populations they rule of fundamental rights.

The inept and out of touch Biden appears to be easing the path.


Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.