How Biden can bring peace to the Middle East

How Biden can bring peace to the Middle East

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For many observers of the Middle East conflicts, the idea of democracy and peace seems to be an oxymoron. Pundits repeatedly say that there is no relationship between peace and tranquility on the one hand and democracy and human rights on the other. US President Joe Biden can prove them wrong on the Palestine-Israel conflict — but he needs to be consistent.

When Biden meets Jordan’s King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett this month, he should return to his own playbook and stick to the words that propelled him to the White House.

Shortly after his inauguration, Biden said the US was “better equipped to unite the world in fighting to defend democracy, because we have fought for it ourselves.” In explaining his own words, America’s 45th president said that “force should never seek to overrule the will of the people.”

When Biden meets Bennett, he should remind his Israeli guest, a former native of north New Jersey, of the principle articulated by the famous president from New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson, of people’s inalienable right to self-determination.

So the first rule for solving the Palestine-Israel conflict should be that occupation and the continuity of a foreign military rule is unacceptable, and that the people of Palestine, like all people in the world, must be allowed to determine their own future. The world, including the Biden administration, has opted for the two-state solution. Most Palestinians and Israelis at one time supported it, but many are pessimistic about its realization.

While the idea of a free and democratic state of Palestine living alongside a safe and secure Israel seems almost utopian now, it is still possible to apply this formula so long as there is genuine political will from Washington behind it. If the US is unable to impose its word on a small idea of building trust, how can it expect to bring about peace after decades of conflict?

Biden should also have some strong words for his other Middle East guest, King Abdullah. The US leader had said that democracy should not “attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election.” Jordan’s ruler should be encouraged over his latest move in this regard. King Abdullah has just set up a committee of about 90 members, reflecting all of Jordanian society, to rewrite the election and party law. But the process is handicapped without a real commitment from the king to parliamentary monarchy in the style of the UK, Sweden and others.

By staying true to his human rights principles, Biden can encourage democracy and bring about a peace built on freedom of expression and rule of law for Palestinians, Israelis and all other people of the region and the world.

Daoud Kuttab

In order to accomplish the goal of self-determination and for negotiations to be serious, Palestinians must be given the chance to choose their leadership through elections and decide the direction of such legitimately elected leaders. Since the canceling of elections, Palestinian rule of law has deteriorated, with a critic dying after his violent arrest by Palestinian security, and protesters against his death beaten up and imprisoned by security forces trained and paid for by US taxpayers. This should not be allowed.

In his talk at the State Department on Feb. 4, Biden said that partners around the world needed to support restoration of democracy and the rule of law. But he also warned that those refusing to accept the basic tenets of democracy should understand that the world will “impose consequences on those responsible.”

The African-American activist and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill joined forces with Mitchell Plitnick, director of Rethinking Foreign Policy, to write a daring book, entitled “Except for Palestine,” in which they argue that “holding fast to one-sided and unwaveringly pro-Israel policies reflects the truth-bending grip of authoritarianism on both Israel and the US.”

The book encourages a much tougher policy against Israeli military occupation and colonial settlement policies. Biden, a member of the Obama administration, should tell his Israeli visitor that Washington is committed to the UN Security Council resolution 2334, which declared all settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, to be illegal and called for an immediate freeze on settlement building.

The resolution, which the US did not oppose, said settlements had “no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.”

The US State Department has also prioritized its opposition to Israel’s policy of house demolitions. Public pronouncements by Secretary of State Antony Blinken detailing Washington’s objection to this collective punishment, and the Security Council’s opposition to settlements, have been blatantly ignored by the new Bennett/Lapid government. Meanwhile, Israel continues to enjoy more US aid support than any country in the world.

Biden and Blinken have a responsibility to confront both Arab and Israeli leaders with the principles that have been outlined during the first six months of the Biden administration. Democracy and human rights, as well as respect for international law, should be the political litmus test for Washington in dealing with friend and foe alike. Only when the US means what it says will the world, including authoritarians and occupiers, take these words seriously.

By staying true to his human rights principles, Biden can encourage democracy and bring about a peace built on freedom of expression and rule of law for Palestinians, Israelis and all other people of the region and the world.

  • Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on @daoudkuttab
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