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Israel, US, Palestine, Trump

Biden Is Following Trump’s Lead on Israel-Palestine

The US president’s promise to put human rights first doesn’t seem to apply to Israel.

Words: Khury Petersen-Smith and Azadeh Shahshahani
Pictures: Laura Siegal

The last year has seen a horrific rise in violence by the Israeli government against Palestinians — especially across the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Raids by Israeli troops have been killing Palestinians almost weekly, while Israeli settler violence against Palestinian villagers has reached a fever pitch.

In the Palestinian village of Huwara, 100 settlers went on a rampage in late February 2023, killing one Palestinian, injuring hundreds, and setting houses and cars on fire — all while the military stood watch. With Israeli cabinet officials openly calling for violence against Palestinians, the problem is likely to worsen.

Throughout it all, the US government has attempted to portray itself as an impartial arbiter. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Jerusalem in January 2023, just days after Israel’s most far-right government in history rode into office on a rising tide of violence against Palestinians. Blinken offered stately overtures, saying, “we’re urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate.”

More recently, in late February 2023, the United States convened a regional summit in Jordan long pushed by the Biden administration. Originally meant to bolster the Palestinian Authority, which has faced protests by Palestinians, the escalating violence brought new relevance to the talks. “The Biden administration pushed for the summit as part of its efforts to de-escalate the situation in the West Bank,” Axios explained. But Israeli violence against Palestinians continues unabated. And Washington deserves at least part of the blame because the United States is hardly a neutral mediator.


Israel’s raids in the West Bank — the most recent of which in Nablus wounded more than 100 Palestinians and killed 11 — are enabled by US military aid, which amounts to a minimum of $3.8 billion each year. In fact, the United States carried out its largest-ever joint military exercises with Israel the week before Blinken went to Jerusalem and counseled calm on “both sides.”

Biden has continued the Trump administration’s efforts to sideline the Palestinian cause among Arab governments, and has embraced the Abraham Accords that took the recognition of Palestinian rights off the table.

Throughout last year’s steady escalation of attacks on Palestinians, the United States offered at least tacit endorsements of Israel’s actions. Even last spring, when Israeli forces shot and killed renowned Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a US citizen, the United States took no steps to hold Israel accountable. Multiple investigations, including from the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN, have found Israel responsible for killing Abu Akleh, disproving the initial Israeli story that she was killed by stray fire from Palestinian militants. Members of Congress have spoken out and introduced legislation calling for an official US government investigation into the killing.  Abu Akleh’s family has tirelessly pursued justice but the White House has only offered condolences.

That summer, President Joe Biden himself made a trip to Jerusalem and called the US-Israel relationship “bone deep” — shortly after Israel had launched those far-reaching operations in the West Bank. Biden’s visit effectively gave the raids a green light from Washington. Shortly thereafter, the United States also looked the other way as Israeli forces raided six Palestinian human rights organizations’ offices and detained staff.

Biden has also continued the Trump administration’s efforts to sideline the Palestinian cause among Arab governments. Biden’s State Department has openly embraced the Abraham Accords, agreements between Arab states and Israel negotiated by the Trump administration that trades recognition of Israel for certain gifts from the United States. For example, in the case of the United Arab Emirates, signing on came with a $23 billion US weapons deal. For Morocco, the deal secured the Trump administration’s legitimization of that country’s illegal occupation of the Western Sahara. Biden hasn’t reversed either decision.

In addition to enabling authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East, the Abraham Accords effectively sidelined the question of Palestine regionally by removing Israel’s recognition of Palestinian human rights as a condition for diplomatic relations.


The Biden administration has also quietly continued President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, accepted Trump’s recognition of illegal Israeli control over the Syrian Golan Heights, and repeatedly rejected the conclusion of respected international rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that Israeli policy toward Palestinians amounts to apartheid.

In his 2003 book “Dishonest Broker,” political scientist Naseer Aruri wrote that “the image of Washington as the impartial chief conciliator is contradicted by its enduring alliance with Israel.” Twenty years later, the United States continues to extend billions in military aid to Israel each year without conditions, even as Israel intensifies its displacement and repression of Palestinians.

But this position is slowly becoming untenable. Key lawmakers like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and some House progressives are calling on the United States to end US aid to Israel if it’s used to commit human rights abuses. Even conditioning military aid to Israel would mark a huge departure from Washington’s orthodoxy. It is an uphill battle that is just beginning, but the fact that members of Congress have put the question on the table is incredibly significant.

Biden, who promised to put human rights at the center of US foreign policy, should listen.

Khury Petersen-Smith and Azadeh Shahshahani

Khury Petersen-Smith is the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and Azadeh Shahshahani is the legal and advocacy director with Project South and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild.

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