Congress Pressures Biden and Company for Fairness towards Palestinians
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
House members and Senators have both sent letters to the Biden administration requesting that it make good on its promises to the Palestinians. The letters follow a perceived delay in the administration’s undoing of four years of overly favorable treatment of the Netanyahu regime, to the detriment of Palestinians. Here, we review these communications and the shifting conversations on Palestine.
House Progressives address the former President’s extreme bias against Palestinian rights
This past Friday, a dozen House Democrats formally advised the Biden administration of their sentiments about ‘the former guy’s’ unfairness towards Palestinians and extreme favoritism towards Netanyahu’s regime. Their sentiments were contained in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging the administration to “ground its engagement on Palestine and Israel in international law and human rights and undo the damage done by the Trump administration.” Quoted in Common Dreams, the letter was initiated by Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, along with Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.
The letter continued, “We look forward to establishing a new, mutually productive relationship with the State Department under your leadership that results in U.S. policy that supports the human rights and dignity of the Palestinian people.” The group of 12 progressive lawmakers included, besides Tlaib and Pocan, fellow Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), among others.
These lawmakers, depicting themselves as “advocates for the human rights of the Palestinian people,” also condemned former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, due to his “unwillingness to engage with us about our concerns related to U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine.” Furthermore, they requested that Blinken respond to their earlier letters that Pompeo had ignored. Issues they had raised in these earlier letters included Israel’s unilateral annexation of Palestinian land and its widespread demolition of homes, which, they averred, required “effective and timely diplomatic action to end.”
A shifting conversation about Palestinians now includes a longer, more pressing list of their rights
The group of 12 progressive lawmakers, not just condemning the prior abuse of Palestinians, has called on Israel to conform to international law by “providing for public health measures in Occupied Palestinian Territory,” and therefore vaccinating all Palestinians under Israel’s military occupation. Furthermore, the letter writers requested the new administration revoke the Trump-Kushner so-called Peace to Prosperity Plan to allow Israel to unilaterally annex 30% of the West Bank that fall outside the negotiation framework. They request that Biden and company oppose all forms of settler colonialism, as they point out — “illegal under international law.”
Yet another group of Congress members, Senators this time, penned another letter to Secretary Blinken stating, “As the occupying power under international law, Israel is legally obligated to provide for the health and well-being of all people under its control.” In their letter, Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Carper, Sherrod Brown, and Jeff Merkley underscored the immediate right of Palestinians living under Israel occupation to Covid inoculations.
Israel maintains that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is responsible for health care in the occupied territories, according to Middle East Eye (MEE). That responsibility dates to a much earlier time, when the Oslo Agreement was signed in the early ‘90s. Most everyone knows that the PA has limited resources, including limitations of its leadership.
The Senators’ letter, however, noted that the Oslo Agreement does “not supersede Israel’s responsibilities under the fourth Geneva Convention,” which states that the occupying authority is responsible for the occupied population’s health. This includes “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics”.
But the Senators’ communication with the Biden team went beyond the Covid vaccination issue to the broader question of reviving hopes of peace and ensuring security for both Israelis and Palestinians. Included was the stipulation that, “The occupation will continue to present problems such as those articulated above, so we urge the administration to work towards an equitable resolution to ensure the rights of all people.”
The House and Senate letters are both aimed at eliciting a response from the Biden people, who, again according to MEE, “is yet to voice any criticism of Israeli government policies, including on the issues of settlements and vaccination.”
These Congressional members, then, are awaiting some word from President Biden, especially given his earlier promises to Palestinian Arabs, Arabs in general, and Muslims around the world.
Unraveling the conflation of advocacy for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel
A new book, Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics, by Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick, closely parallels our above review. Namely, the book suggests that the same principles applied by “progressives and liberals who oppose such regressive policies on immigration, racial justice, gender equality, LGBTQ rights…must extend these core principles to the oppression of Palestinians.”
The book discusses what it sees as “Israel’s growing disdain for democracy, the effects of the occupation on Palestine, the siege of Gaza, diminishing American funding for Palestinian relief, and the campaign to stigmatize any critique of Israeli occupation.” In this same context the book’s authors also propose the idea that more and more American political leaders equate the advocacy for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.
Pro-Palestinian beliefs and support do not in any way equate with anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. But, four years of the previous administration that made this equation has seemed to have affected even our newly elected leadership. In this sense, a silence on the issue of Palestinian freedom has normalized, and a Palestinian exception has been allowed to stand as reality and, thus, per Rashida Tlaib, we need to reorient towards “advocating for the rights and dignity of Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
The point could not be made more clearly.
“House Progressives Implore Biden State Dept. to Center Palestinian Rights,” Common Dreams, 3/12/2021
“Dozen House members slam range of Israeli policies, and five senators call on Israel to vaccinate Palestinians in separate letter,” Middle East Eye, 3/12/2021
Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics,Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick, The New Press, March 2021
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He did fieldwork in an east Libyan Saharan oasis and has taught at the University of Libya-Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo. John served with the United Nations as an official in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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