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Opinion: Biden needs to address the coming crisis between Israel and Palestine

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President Biden’s first official visit to Israel and the Middle East this month provides an opportunity for a vital reset of U.S. policy. Despite the collapse of Israel’s governing coalition, the trip still offers the best opportunity of Biden’s presidency to reassert the United States’ position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was upended during the Trump years.

The president’s agenda will center on promoting budding diplomatic ties between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. Such cooperation is a welcome development for those hoping to see Israel fully accepted in its region after 75 years. Yet the president must know — based on decades of experience with Israel and the region — that there will be no true and lasting peace in the region without meaningful progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ignoring the simmering tension, violence and injustice that dominate the Israeli and Palestinian reality will further the continuing deterioration of the status quo between the parties.

While campaigning, candidate Biden committed to reversing many steps taken by President Donald Trump that undermined prospects for a two-state solution and America’s potential to mediate the conflict. But a year and a half into Biden’s term, his administration has yet to follow through on those promises, such as to reopen the U.S. Consulate dealing with the Palestinians.

Nor has the administration reaffirmed renewed U.S. recognition of the distinction between Israel itself and the territory under its military occupation since 1967. Indeed, senior officials have essentially refused to use the word “occupation” in public.

On the ground, settlements are expanding at a steady pace, demolitions and evictions of Palestinians are increasing, and settler violence is growing bolder — with almost no effective action by Israeli authorities to restrain it. Palestinian terrorism is on the rise, and the status quo on the Temple Mount is cracking.

While Israel has refrained from de jure annexation of occupied territory, its policy and actions continue to push inexorably toward de facto annexation of large swaths of the West Bank. These steps violate international law and in many cases seem deliberately designed to obstruct the achievement of a two-state solution.

Over one-tenth of Israel’s Jewish population now lives in occupied territory, governed by different laws and with greater rights than the millions of Palestinians who live next to them in the same territory. The seeming irreversibility of this situation is fueling instability in Palestinian politics and society. The American role in enabling it is opening serious rifts within the Democratic Party and in the Jewish and progressive communities.

The Trump administration substituted business and security deals with a handful of Arab countries for a meaningful effort to resolve the actual conflict. While normalization of relations has tangible benefits for Israel and some in the region, Biden must ensure that the process is not used to provide cover for the Israeli right’s intention to permanently rule out Palestinian independence.

Indeed, the president must ensure his trip agenda goes well beyond the White House’s stated intention to have him “reiterate his strong support for a two-state solution, with equal measures of security, freedom, and opportunity for the Palestinian people.” That’s an important goal — but truly achieving it will require much tougher leadership, clarity and resolve.

The president should reaffirm that the United States — like its allies and nearly every country in the world — regards the territory over the 1949 Green Line to be “occupied” under international law. A public clarification is vital as the word was so publicly scrubbed from the U.S. diplomatic lexicon by former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

While at every turn the president should and will use his trip as a platform to reaffirm the United States’ long-standing commitment to Israel’s security, he must also make clear the limits of U.S. tolerance for Israeli policy and action that expand settlements, promote demolitions and evictions in the West Bank or otherwise undermine a two-state future.

He should draw on his long-term friendship with Israel and its leaders — dating back to Golda Meir — to warn that ever-deepening occupation and the emerging one-state reality undermine the country’s relationship with the United States, its long-term security and its democratic foundations.

These are hard truths for many to hear — but only an honest reckoning with the root causes of the conflict can pave the way for decisive action to finally, peacefully end it. For the sake of both peoples and the United States’ own interests, that kind of honesty and direct leadership is exactly what’s needed from President Biden.

Article link:
Article source: Washington Post | Jeremy Ben-Ami | July 11, 2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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