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Bahbah: Biden Leaves Palestine Without Advancing Peace

posted on: Jul 20, 2022

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By: Bishara A. Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist

The most touching moments of President Joe Biden’s visit to Palestine were captured on a 90-second videotape caught by a private camera. Surrounded by Franciscan priests, known as “The Protectors of the Holy Places,” Palestinian students from a Bethlehem Christian school sang for President Biden a short version of the song, “Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. I hope someday you will join us, and the world will be as one.”

This was the most powerful message conveyed by Palestinians to President Biden who, while the youngsters were singing, was full of smiles and was even seen as singing along with those innocent pupils who were full of hope for peace. 

Alas, President Biden’s message to Palestinians was put bluntly, “the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations [with Israel].” 

The president did not expound why the time for peace talks was not now.  His priorities for his Middle East trip had other priorities.  Biden was more concerned about:  Russia’s war with Ukraine and the effect of the war on oil prices and worldwide food supplies; the expansion of Chinese political and economic influence throughout the world; Israel’s integration with the Arab world; and Iran’s threat to Arab oil-producing countries and Israel; and Iran’s self-declared ability to produce a nuclear bomb.

Without regurgitating all the arguments for the need to restart peace now between Israel and the Palestinians, the Biden administration must have concluded that with minimal incidents of violence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, Israel can live with the status quo for a very long time allowing it much-needed time to keep expanding Israeli settlements all over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel was left to consolidate its control unchecked over the Palestinian lives.

Yes, the Biden administration is considerably more friendly to the Palestinians compared to the wacky presidency of Donald J. Trump. Palestinians appreciated the much-needed U.S. donations to the network of Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem and the additional funding for UNRWA.  

However, what Palestinians need is not money and rosy statements about a two-state solution. They need an actual state living side by side in peace with Israel – A state that is based on the pre-1967 borders. Palestinians need a state that is sovereign, contiguous, and that is not checkered with Israeli settlements, and subjugated to an eternal Israeli occupation. 

Palestinians were hopeful that Biden’s visit would lead to an announcement of the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinians wanted to hear announcements about the imminent reopening of the US consulate in East Jerusalem and the reopening of the PLO office in Washington. Palestinians wanted a commitment to remove the PLO from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Palestinians looked for an iron-clad U.S. commitment to finding and punishing the killers of American-Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh.

What Palestinians got were lofty pronouncements with little vision or hope. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was straightforward in stating, “Mr. President, we are not terrorists.” Abbas also affirmed for the umpteen time that Palestinians are extending their hands for peace with the Israelis.

Former Israeli representative to the United Nations Aba Eban used to repeatedly say, “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss the opportunity.” Well, I would say of today’s Israel that it has discarded every opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords. These accords allowed Israel to successfully dump Palestinian daily woes on the newly created Palestinian Authority and off its shoulders as an occupying power. 

Palestinians were deeply disappointed by President Biden’s two-hour stopover in Bethlehem compared to the two-full days according to Israel. What was left after Biden’s visit to the West Bank was a feeling, among many Palestinians, that the United States is Israel’s partner in its occupation of Palestinian lands, whether by funding the Israeli war machine or by its unconditional support of Israel’s views vis-à-vis the peace process. The United States provides Israel with unwavering political support in helping it make peace with Arab countries and defends any criticism of Israel in international forums.

In my view, Israel has been short-sighted, greedy, and intentionally oblivious of the just Palestinian demands for a state of their own. Willy-nilly, that will always be the Palestinian goal now and for the endless future.  

To Israel, I say: Unless and until you sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians, you will always live on the edge and fearful of what Palestinians might do next. Is that the way of life you want to live with, or do you want your children to inherit from you?

To Biden, I say: You had a golden opportunity to right the wrongs of previous US administrations, especially the Trump presidency. Why didn’t you make history by using the leverage you have with Israel, as an avowed Zionist and president of the United States, to nudge it to, at the very least, and invite both sides to the negotiating table in Washington, D.C.? 

Mr. President, sadly, what you have achieved during this trip regarding the Palestinians is to substitute short-term hope with money, and the ultimate aspirations for a state with a carte blanche for Israel to do whatever it wanted in the occupied Palestinian territories.   

Prof. Bishara A Bahbah taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  He was the editor in chief of the Jerusalem-based Al-Fajr Palestinian newspaper and served, with self-admitted failure, as a member of the Palestinian delegation on “Arms Control and Regional Security.”  He currently contributes on a regular basis to 15 newspapers and media outlets.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

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