US President Joe Biden is equating the country’s international diplomacy with “America’s most cherished democratic values,” and one reason he might deflect scrutiny, or avoid accountability for the discrepancy between words and action, is none other than the legacy of his predecessor.
Under the Trump administration the US was internationally ostracized, even as it made inroads with Israel and bequeathed the settler-colonial enterprise with concessions that are unlikely to be revoked. The Abraham Accords may have sealed the international community’s tacit approval on all Israel’s human rights violations. After all, what better way to forge diplomatic ties than for Arab and Gulf states to normalize relations with Israel, as the international community has already done since the UN recognized Israel as a member state?
During the US presidential campaigns, Democratic lawmakers had called for the conditioning of US aid to Israel if Tel Aviv persists with its annexation plans. While the letter was an important initiative, and certainly one that diverges from mainstream US policy on Israel, conditioning aid on the suspension of annexation plans omits Israel’s decades-long legacy of human rights violations, which the US has funded to the tune of US$146 billion since 1948.
A report by the Congressional Research Service, published in November 2020, frames US foreign aid to the settler-colonial state as being: “in light of robust domestic US support for Israel and its security; shared strategic goals in the Middle East; a mutual commitment to democratic values; and historical ties dating from US support for the creation of Israel in 1948.”
In 1986, as a Senator, Biden – who calls himself a Zionist, fully supported US military aid to Israel, calling it “the best investment we make.”
In 1986, as a Senator, Biden – who calls himself a Zionist, fully supported US military aid to Israel, calling it “the best investment we make.” In a speech to the US Senate, Biden stressed Israel’s importance to the US, stating, “If there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.” Vested interests, therefore, not human rights and democratic values, finance Israel’s international law violations against Palestinians.
Had the former US President Donald Trump not been so belligerent, it is likely that Biden would not be perceived as a possible guarantor of human rights, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) itself would have not been so forthright to cement its allegiance with another US President whose main interest is protecting Israel. However, after four years of Trump’s overt policies to erase the Palestinians’ political rights, Biden’s return to the status quo, albeit an altered one in Israel’s favor, will only have Trump as an immediate contrast. As a result, the US history of funding Israel since its inception will be lost to the more immediate details of whether negotiations will be brokered between Palestine and Israel and, of course, the more pressing question of annexation.
The US recognized Israel on May 14, 1948, after which subsequent US governments embarked upon economic aid programs for Israel. In 1962, the Kennedy administration altered the nature of US aid to Israel by introducing the sale of weapons to the settler-colonial state. While buying into the Israeli security narrative and building the “special relationship” discourse, the late J.F. Kennedy had warned Israel about its nuclear weapons program.
From 1973 onwards, the US committed to maintaining Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” (QME). The rationale behind this preferential treatment is to ensure Israel has superior weaponry and technology over other countries in the region. The 2020 report notes instances where Israel was compensated by the US on occasions when other deals were struck with Saudi Arabia, enabling Israel to use US defense equipment with authorization and as a means to preserve its QME.
In 2016, the Obama administration granted Israel US$38 billion in military aid for ten years.
The most publicized agreements between Israel and the US are the Memoranda of Understanding since 1999. In 2016, the Obama administration granted Israel US$38 billion in military aid for ten years—US$33 billion in military finance grants and US$5 billion for missile defense programs. Additionally, the US has also provided US$1.6billion for the development of Iron Dome – the missile defense shield first used by Israel in Operation Pillar of Cloud in 2012 and, to a great lauding, during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, both carried out in Gaza.
Speculation that Biden will not prioritize the Middle East is growing. If the US indeed follows such a trajectory, it will leave the door open for Israel to proceed with its Trump-era plans, particularly when it comes to annexation. However, not focusing on the Middle East does not constitute a lack of support for Israel.
The PA has only started regaining a sliver of its international standing, garnered mostly due to Biden restoring US relations with the PA, and Mahmoud Abbas’s plans to hold elections. The US stated that it would restore aid to the Palestinians, yet so far no pledges of financial assistance have been made.
At the UN Security Council (UNSC), the US Acting Representative to the UN Richard Mills outlined Biden’s approach in late January and insisted that “the US will maintain its steadfast support for Israel.” Mills also declared the US would speak out against unilateral action by Israel and the PA “that make a two-state solution more difficult.”
Biden may be perceived as more inclined towards international diplomacy, yet the former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman seems adamant that Trump’s policies will not be thwarted by the current administration, particularly annexation.
In light of the egregious violations supported by Trump and likely to be overlooked by Biden, the Palestinian position is weaker than ever.
In light of the egregious violations supported by Trump and likely to be overlooked by Biden, the Palestinian position is weaker than ever, and more likely to remain shackled to the humanitarian paradigm.
Israel receives billions in military funding while Palestinians are granted millions in humanitarian aid. The discrepancy is significant. Pledges to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) have decreased, and even with US assistance, the agency will still not be able to cover its deficit, which means that Palestinians may even experience difficulty in accessing basic services such as education and health care.
The US has chartered a course of action through non-action, and this will be visible if Israel proceeds with its annexation plans. Conditioning aid to Israel is highly unlikely – all of Israel’s allies turn a blind eye when it comes to its human rights violations, even if respecting “human rights” form part of a clause upon which financial and economic partnerships are built. Washington goes a step further, with no qualms in declaring that “American values” and “democracy” fund Israel’s settler-colonial, apartheid enterprise.