Joe Biden Gives Bibi Netanyahu a Free Hand
Former Virginia State Senator Richard H. Black has often said that Joe Biden has never seen a war he didn’t like, pointing out that as U.S. Senator, Biden had voted for both Iraq wars as well as military interventions in Syria and Libya. Now, he is giving full support to Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, despite the suffering it causes on both side of the Israeli- Palestinian divide.
This most recent conflict started as others have in the past. First, an Israeli court ruling allowed radical Israeli Jewish settlers to seize houses in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem from Arab families who have been living there for more than 50 years and had reportedly owned these buildings before 1948. A political decision on the part of the current caretaker government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was made to allow the seizure and eviction to go forward at a time that coincides with the Muslim Ramadan holiday period. As in the past, the move created tensions which quickly spread to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City in early May. The intervention of the Israeli police against demonstrators directly at the Al-Aqsa compound led to an explosion of violence.
On top of this, on May 10, Israeli nationalists held a parade in East Jerusalem to celebrate “Jerusalem Day” commemorating the capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. The violence quickly spread throughout the West Bank, and predictably led to a response by Hamas from the Gaza Strip who began firing rockets into Israel from their arsenal. The Israel Defense Force was ordered to launch its detailed contingency plan which includes a full list of targets.
The only way any ceasefire has been arranged in the past is through the United States putting pressure on Israel (the Americans being the only ones the Israelis listen to), while the Egyptians and other Arab players, along with Russia, did the same on the Palestinians. But President Biden has chosen to give Israel a free hand to determine when it wants a ceasefire. Both Washington and London have blocked any UN resolution that even hints at a demand to end the violence. Then, on May 17, Biden gave away the most powerful item of pressure he has, and made known that he approved a $735 million arms deal with Israel, consisting mostly of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, to replace those killing Palestinian women and children.
But, unlike previous such conflicts, this one has two very serious consequences for Israel and the region. For the first time since the 1948 Arab Israeli War, violence has exploded across Israel proper, between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews, with right-wing Jewish gangs fighting Arab gangs in city streets, especially in the north of the country which has the highest concentration of Israeli Arab citizens. This had created tremendous concern within Israel itself.
Secondly, the violence has served to support Bibi Netanyahu in his bid to form another government, which will sink any attempt to get peace talks off the ground after over one decade of being frozen. Prior to this conflict, Israel had just finished another round of elections, the fifth in two years. While Netanyahu was given a mandate to form a coalition government, he failed in the effort, and the mandate was then given to Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party. His effort to create a “coalition for change” has been suspended until the current conflict ends, but some of his perspective partners have already announced they will not continue the negotiations. If Lapid fails, the Israeli President will either giver the mandate back to Netanyahu, or once again call for new elections.
Joe Biden has now set the stage for a very dangerous future for a region already dangerously unstable.