As the US elections approach, Democrats make their last push to line-up all opposition to the current administration behind Joe Biden. The democratic nominee is posing as an alternative to Donald Trump on every possible subject. However, when it comes to Palestine, he is much more conventional than thought to be.
Biden has found it easy to base his entire campaign on presenting himself as a ‘rational’ alternative to a Trump administration, which he tries to show as ‘irrational’, including on the Middle East and especially on the Palestine question. In the past years Trump has managed to raise controversy on every move he has made concerning the Palestinian cause.
Trump has ignored the legal status of Jerusalem by moving the US embassy to the Eastern part of the city. He showed no hesitation in trashing international law by declaring Israel’s occupation and annexation of the syrian Golan as legitimate. He intended to tear apart decades of international consensus over the 1967 occupied territories, by conceding the Jordan Valley to Israel in his peace plan. He even seemed to want to change the whole concept of a ‘deal’ being between at least two parties, by brokering a ‘deal’ without negotiations, between Israel and itself. In fact, Trump has gone so far in ignoring international law, international consensus and US long-standing positions, that anything beside him would look moderate.
Joe Biden is trying to exploit this by presenting a program that looks like a resuming of standard US policies on the conflict. Some kind of ‘return’ to the good old days when the US at least pretended to be an honest, trust-worthy broker of the peace process in the Middle East. Nevertheless, a closer look into Biden’s campaign reveals a picture that looks more as a complementary than an alternative to Trump’s policy towards the Palestinian question. The clearest example, and the most representative of the entire Biden logic concerning the Palestinian cause, is Biden’s announcement that he will not move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv if he is elected president. But this is not new. In fact, a closer look to the entire US legacy towards the Middle East shows a monotony so static, so systemic, that it makes it hard to distinguish democrats from republicans.
When Carter wanted to end the conflict
When Jimmy Carter was elected in 1977, he gave the impression of breaking with traditional US positions towards the Middle East conflict. In March of that year, only two months into his office, Carter declared that he was in support of “establishing a homeland for the Palestinians”, becoming the first US president to treat the Palestinian cause as a political one, not a mere humanitarian question.
In many ways, Carter moved into the White House seemingly determined to end the Middle East conflict, which meant that the US had to play a role of intermediate, and not only an ally of Israel. The result of that policy was the signature of the Camp David accords in 1979 between Israel and Egypt, who became the first Arab state to normalize relations with the Zionist state. However, as historical as the Camp David accords might have been, the US role in brokering them was anything but a departure from traditional US involvement and in the conflict.
In his 2018 book ‘US diplomacy under Carter: The US, Israel and the Palestinians’ Jørgen Jensenhaugen explains that Carter’s intention to solve the Middle East conflict faced many constraints. From one side, Carter had to deal with the election of Menachim Begin as Prime Minister of Israel, with a hard-line position on settlements and on the refusal of any Palestinian representation in any potential talks with the Arab world, which was already submerged in divisions. From another side, he faced the pressure of the congress and that of interest groups, namely the Israeli lobby. At the same time, Carter’s administration’s attention was driven away by the Iranian revolution and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, the US continued to mediate the peace talks between the occupation state and Sadat’s Egypt, within the limitations of interest groups pressure and Israeli hard-line conditions that the Carter administration did practically nothing to push against. Jensenhaugen explains that the result of the US mediation in the Camp David accords was the fulfillment of the goals of the very US tradition Carter was supposed to be breaking with. The Carter administration broke the Arab alliance, line-sided the Palestinians, weakened the Soviet influence in the Middle East and secured the Israeli occupation.
It’s all about normalization
But most importantly, the Zionist state normalized its relations with the biggest and strongest Arab state, without any addressing of the Palestinian cause. Israel was the bigger winner of the Camp David accords because it won a strategic normalization with the Arab world, without any challenge to the core reason its relations with the Arab world aren’t normal in the first place.
From Carter to Trump, not surprisingly, Arab normalization with Israel continues to be the core subject of US policy towards the conflict. If Trump’s services to Israel could be resumed in one word; it would be “normalization”. Trump did his best to normalize the occupation of Jerusalem and the Golan, the settlements in the West Bank, the colonization of the Jordan Valley and the Ghettoization of the Palestinian people. Finally, Trump tried to push Israel’s normalization with Arab states forward. Biden is offering nothing different. In fact, his entire Middle East policy proposition revolves around normalization.
Build upon the normalized
The Biden campaign’s paper on the Middle East policy, which became known as Biden’s ‘white paper’ to Israel, promises to “reverse” the US distancing with the Palestinian Authority, which the paper blames on the Trump administration. This particular promise would logically mean a reversal of Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem and settlements, given that these decisions are what caused the US-PA distancing to begin with, but it doesn’t. In fact, Biden’s promise to break with Trump’s policy is accompanied with another simultaneous promise to keep its effects intact. Biden’s ‘white paper’ makes four other promises to Israel; to continue military assistance without any political conditions, to resume the previous US policy towards the Iran nuclear deal, to push normalization with Arab states forward and finally, to fight and delegitimize the Palestine solidarity movement and the BDS campaign.
What Biden is offering to do as far as the Palestinian question is concerned is to put the illusive peace-process back on track, bringing Israel and Palestinians back on a negotiations table, now reshaped by Trump’s legitimization of Israel’s expansionism over Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights. In other words, Biden’s pretended alternative to Trump is nothing more than a normalization of Trump’s normalization of what is, by all legal and political measures, abnormal. A continuity of a decades-long US strategy which never changes its direction; always pushing the Israeli colonial machine forward, over the rubble of Palestinian rights and Palestinian future.