Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent statement that Israelis and Palestinians “deserve equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity, and dignity ”could be described as new rhetoric coming from the White House. Yet, it is rather questionable whether it signals a more balanced approach for the otherwise inept US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Indeed, while Blinken’s comments were highly welcomed, the administration has not clarified how such “equal measures” should be achieved and what this new approach would look like in practice.
For Anders Persson, Senior Lecturer and Researcher on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Sweden-based Linnaeus University, Blinken’s affirmation is an interesting phrase and “the most important and innovative policy departure that the Biden administration has come up with so far on Israel-Palestine.” Though questions remain as to what it means, and more importantly, if and how it can be translated into real policies on the ground.
The latest views expressed by the US, and the apparent desire to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, could represent the opportunity to move forward from empty phrases and bring a value-based approach to a non-existing dialogue and peace process. But many experts do not expect any significant change.
According to Persson, there are no signs that the Biden administration is seriously pursuing freedom for the Palestinians, which would inevitably mean challenging the Israeli occupation.
This is not surprising, as President Biden has a long history of support for Israel, recalls Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Speaking to Inside Arabia, she said, “It has become almost knee jerk, as we saw during the months of April and May, when in the face of Israeli expulsions of Palestinian refugee families from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem and police aggression in the Haram Al Sharif and Al Aqsa Mosque the administration’s response was to talk generically about ‘both sides’ needing to deescalate the situation.”
Hassan pointed out Biden’s support for Israel’s “self-defense” as Israel was bombarding Gaza in early May, targeting critical infrastructure, UN buildings, press quarters, as well as schools and multi-level residential apartment buildings.
It remains a great unknown how far President Biden will go in this seemingly new approach and if he intends to persuade Israel to shift its policy.
It remains a great unknown how far President Biden will go in this seemingly new approach and if he intends to persuade Israel to shift its policy and agree to structural change towards Palestinians.
The Biden administration has reiterated on numerous occasions that the two-state solution is the only means to resolve the conflict and defuse tension between the Palestinians and Israelis. Yet, Shehab Al Makahleh, a political analyst and President of the Geostrategic Media Center, told Inside Arabia that the administration has done nothing in this regard.
Instead, Makahleh believes the US has waited for an agreement to first take place between the Palestinian parties (the Hamas and Fatah Movements), in order to reach political harmony among Palestinians before they sit down to resolve the issue with the Israelis and other international actors involved in the dispute. Still, the Biden administration played a role in the pressure put on Israel to agree to a ceasefire with the Palestinians in May 2021, signaling that the US’ patience was running thin, as Biden would rather focus on domestic issues as well as the Asia-Pacific region and US tensions with China.
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Persson observes that the conversation on Israel-Palestine is indeed changing in the US, and rights-based discourses are getting increasingly powerful in the US, less so in Europe. “The ‘equality measures’ phrase might be a reflection of that and something that the Palestinians and their allies can build further upon,” he told Inside Arabia.
In a similar vein, Hassan concludes that the term “equal measures” is recognition that the Democratic Party is moving in the direction of greater sympathy and support for Palestinian human rights and accountability for Israel’s violations of those rights. Progressives are pushing Biden and his administration to be more consistent in promoting human rights in US foreign policy. However, talking about “equal measures” of freedom, security, and prosperity “is a far cry from supporting equal rights for Palestinians living under Israeli control and domination,” Zaha Hassan insisted.
The criticism of using the term “equal measures,” instead of “equal rights,” has been voiced by many human rights and international law experts.
The criticism of using the term “equal measures,” instead of “equal rights,” has been voiced by many human rights and international law experts. Omar Dajani – a Professor at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law and a leading expert on the legal aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – finds the use of the word “deserve” telling as well. According to him, “saying that Palestinians deserve a better life reveals nothing about what — and who — stands in their way.”
Nevertheless, in Persson’s view, Palestinians have had some kind of momentum since the successful campaign to stop the demolitions in Sheikh Jarrah and the subsequent escalation in Gaza. Although it raises the question: Can the Palestinians translate this momentum into effective and lasting strategies for confronting Israel?
In Al Makahleh’s opinion, talks between Israelis and Palestinians are not going to take place soon, nor in the near future. The main focus of the Americans, according to him, will be to: reconstruct Gaza and improve humanitarian needs and services; reduce the issues at the root of the tensions between both parties, which could otherwise cause an escalation in the future; and improve the lives of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, to gain credibility with the Palestinians as an honest broker.
Still any debate on equal measures would be futile if it does not address the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza, which has been under strict Israeli blockade ever since Hamas took control of the Strip in 2007. By imposing a blockade, which could be interpreted as an open act of war, Israel completely cut off Gaza from the rest of the world, limiting freedom of movement, goods, and resources as well as causing a humanitarian and health catastrophe.
Unfortunately, many Western leaders, including those from the US, have avoided admitting that this is one of the main causes for the current instability, which has only emboldened Hamas and strengthened its domination. The no-contact policy with Hamas – introduced by the US and EU – has not only further complicated the situation in Gaza but completely failed to achieve any progress, thus prolonging the suffering for the people of Gaza.
The no-contact policy with Hamas has not only further complicated the situation in Gaza but completely failed to achieve any progress.
Zaha Hassan does not think that Biden will push hard on lifting the blockade on Gaza, although he is interested in easing restrictions and will work with the new Israeli government on such palliative measures. In her opinion, the new Israeli government is not going to be too far removed from the policies of the Netanyahu government, as “the new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a former settler leader committed to not seeing a Palestinian state emerge and the Defense Minister is being investigated for war crimes at the International Criminal Court for his past involvement in bombardments of Gaza.”
Hassan expects that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a former TV journalist, will provide an outward-looking face for Israel that will help the rest of the world forget that the Jewish state is continuing its program of colonization and ethnic cleansing in the West Bank.
For Hassan, “the separation and isolation of Gaza is part and parcel of Israel’s settlement enterprise.” While the Biden administration will do its best to not engage too heavily on Israel-Palestine peacemaking, events on the ground will likely change those plans, as family expulsions in Jerusalem continue and Hamas is forced to respond.
Ultimately, the “equal measures” formulation should not be interpreted as an initiation of a brand-new US approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it is no more than an aspiration and a direction. Still, it lends to the implicit confirmation that Palestinians have been facing unequal standards at the hands of Israel for decades.