Why apathy on Palestinian injustice will backfire

Why apathy on Palestinian injustice will backfire

Why apathy on Palestinian injustice will backfire
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It is often difficult to analyze the real results of a summit based on the public statements before and after the meeting, but the latest talks between Israeli Prime Minister Neftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden are easy to examine.

The one-day delay caused by the terrorist attack at Kabul airport threw the observant Jewish leader’s schedule off because of the impracticality of returning before the sabbath. It was a reminder that despite the usual US broken record of “shared values” and total support for Israel, there are many other issues more important to Washington than Israel.

In the limited time that a press briefing provides, the new Israeli prime minister, who grew up in New Jersey, managed to talk about using Amtrak trains (a favorite subject for Biden, who used the train for years to commute from Delaware to DC), but couldn’t muster a single word on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He even found time to mention the third COVID-19 booster shot and, of course, the Iranian issue, but there was not a single mention of the decades-long occupation and the colonization of millions of Palestinians.

The mood at the White House and apparently throughout the US capital reflected the fact that after years of having to deal with the Netanyahus — their lies, their quirks, and even their dirty laundry — a more stable political leader from Israel was making the rounds in Washington.

While the Israeli leader said nothing on the Palestinian issue, Biden did — both in his public remarks and, according to leaks, in the tête-à-tête with Bennett. President Biden noted before the meeting that he and his Israeli guest “also are going to discuss ways to advance peace and security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.” Biden privately pressed Bennett on the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers, and on the need to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem.

While Bennett made no mention of Palestinians in his public statements, both he and the US president apparently talked about the repeated Israeli calls for a visa waiver for Israelis wishing to visit the US. Biden said: “We’re also going to direct our teams to work toward Israel fulfilling the requirements of the visa waiver program and get that done.” However,Israel’s request has been regularly rejected because of the country’s discriminatory policies. There is a huge file of documented cases in which Israel has discriminated against Americans of Arab origin, especially American Palestinians,at the various border crossings. It wasn’t clear if Bennett made any gesture on the Israeli security service’s regular profiling of Americans of Arab origin — although the issue is currently moot, since no foreigners are allowed to visit Israel because of COVID-19 restrictions.

If ever there was a time for Palestinian national unity and a reassessment of the Palestinian national liberation strategy, that time is now.

Daoud Kuttab

While Washington is not in agreement with the Bennett administration on sidelining the Palestinian issue, there does appear to be some convergence on avoiding any major political or diplomatic effort at present. The Biden administration has publicly said that it is not a high priority for Washington, and apart from a short period in May when Gaza-Israel violence escalated, the US appears to have stayed on course in downgrading the Palestine issue.

Biden is under pressure from progressives in his own Democratic Party to reopen the Palestinian mission in DC and the US consulate in Jerusalem, and to put an end to the high-profile house demolitions and evictions, but other than that it doesn’t appear that the US will do much to get the Palestinian-Israeli talks back on track. Overall, Israeli and US apathy over the rights of Palestinians could not have been more clearly illustrated than in that Biden-Bennett summit.

As has happened before, however, such short-sightedness will inevitably backfire, because the tension in Gaza will blow up again if the illegal Israeli blockade is not lifted. The Abbas government in Ramallah is also in bad economic shape; it is running out of money because Israel is withholding a chunk of the taxes and customs it collects on goods destined forPalestine. The EU, which made a rare strong statement against the Palestinian security crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, has been the main financial backer, covering most of the salaries of Palestinian public servants. Arab countries, which were regular financial contributors to the Palestinians as part of publicly declared pledges at consecutive Arab League summits, reduced their support in response to requests from Donald Trump when he was US president,  and have yet to restore it. They are waiting for Biden to make a public request for it, possibly in the hope that they can make some political gains in return. The only Arab leader who has met Biden has been King Abdullah of Jordan.

Palestinians and their friends need to make a somber evaluation of what is happening. There appears to be no seriouseffort on the horizon for a breakthrough in the deadlocked Palestinian-Israeli relationship. Israeli and US efforts to improve the lives of Palestinians will not suffice so long as the Israeli occupation and its land-grabbing colonial settlement enterprise continue. US reluctance to use aid as an instrument of pressure means that Israel will continue to get away with its apartheid regime and its harsh militaristic crackdown on Palestinian resistance.

If ever there was a time for Palestinian national unity and a reassessment of the Palestinian national liberation strategy, that time is now.

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