Two Steps Forward—One Step Back: Palestinian Americans Protest U.S. Policy towards Israel-Palestine
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
Recent optimism for Palestinians has recently been offset by several Biden administration actions. U.S. Secretary of State Blinken held an unannounced meeting with a group of Palestinian American community leaders. In reaction, 529 signatories to a letter representing a broad aggregate of Palestinian Americans, in which they rejected the Blinken meeting. Pushback by pro-Palestinian activists in another domain of protest was an action called Block the Boat, launched against the arrival of an Israeli ship in a New York area port. Another setback was in Biden’s considerations for diplomatic appointments to Israel and the Middle East, which were seen as status quo. Perhaps the last straw was Netanyahu’s presumed replacement by Neftali Bennett, which would make him Israel’s first religious leader ever, with all its implications.
Unannounced meeting of U.S. Secretary of Sate with Palestinian American Community Leaders
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken held a confidential meeting on Friday, June 4 with a group of Palestinian American community leaders. Blinken had also arranged a similar meeting with Jewish coumunity leaders. It was closed to press coverage. The meeting with Palestinian “community members” was not announced beforehand and the representativeness of those members was not ascertained. One of the attendees at the meeting offered several comments on the meeting, first of which is that the attendees were uncertain of how they were selected. The attendee suggested that they be offered a chance to say just how they were selected.
The attendee confirmed that many of the key issues were presented that concerned Palestinians in general. First was Gaza, home demolitions, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and international law violations. These were not tepid issues raised with the Secretary of State. Among others were apartheid, repealing the Absentee Law and other discriminatory laws.
The meeting included a discussion of U.S. involvement directly, including “American credibility being on the line and there being a need to take specific diplomatic measures that will stop international law violations and promote democratic principles around the world.” Others were holding Israel accountable for war crimes and gross human rights violations, killings of civilians, including children, acknowledging that Palestinian Lives Matter, and a statement of the principle that “separate can never mean equal.”
On the more proactive side of the agenda, Palestinians asked for a plan of how the U.S. “will once and for all hold Israel accountable for colonizing Palestinians from land, identity, ethnically.” Other, more practical matters they raised were Trade and Financial opportunities for Palestinians and to help the Palestinian economy thrive, the need for free and fair elections of Palestinian officials to represent Palestinians fairly and accurately, including the youth movement.
This meeting was not about minor issues and the attendee mentioned other, broad matters. Among those were “the need to invest in a pluralistic civil society rooted in equality, dignity and to feel safe, “recognition of Palestinians living as Israeli citizens who are being treated as third- and fourth-class citizens, strong objection to the recent Israeli $1b aid request as well as renewed arms sales to Israel, lifting the blockade on Gaza and promoting free and fair elections, and increased funding to UNRWA.
Broad Group of Palestinians Signs Letter Rejecting U.S. Secretary of Sate Meeting with selected Palestinian American Community Leaders
The above meeting with Secretary Blinken, closed to the press, was condemned by 529 signatories representing a broad aggregate of Palestinian Americans to a letter in which they reject “Secretary Blinken’s opportunistic meeting today with Palestinian community leaders. We reject any attempt to undermine the grassroots uprising in Palestine or to divide the powerful coalitions in the US calling for Israel to be held accountable.”
While the record of the unannounced meeting described above suggests that there was a substantive discussion of Palestinian issues, many Palestinian Americans objected to the way members were selected, the secretive way the meeting was conducted, and the absence of an official record of the meeting.
One clear objection of the signatories to the letter was that the meeting was arranged following the Biden administration’s approval of an additional $735 million in weapons to Israel. This military funding was forced through, even though Congress had agreed to a joint resolution disapproving of the sale. The sale had also gone through despite objections by grassroots organizations, including several Palestinian-American organizations.
The letter uses extraordinarily strong language, including this—”Biden administration continues to reaffirm blind support for Israeli settler-colonialism, even during the height of Israel’s gruesome assault on Gaza; it continues to shield Israel from accountability; and it blames the victims for their own death and oppression, a form of discursive violence that Palestinians have had to bear the brunt of for too long from successive US administrations.”
It is also a very emotional letter, with little holding back on the part of its authors. One further example of the language is the following: “Those people who met with Blinken were chosen by the State Department and are therefore not speakers of this global movement, and are now being put on the debate stage to use them to promote a dangerous agenda. These types of closed-door meetings exploit grass-roots momentum and undermine daily Palestinian resistance on the ground in Palestine by trying to divide coalitions and alliances that have united their strong calls for Israel to be held accountable here in the United States.”
Block the Boat–Pushback by Pro-Palestine Activists shows up in New York Area Port in Protest against Israeli Ship
As part of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions initiative against “Israeli-apartheid profiteering companies,” this pro-Palestinian protest held in the New York Port area, namely Elizabeth, New Jersey. This protest was triggered by labor unions in Palestine, who called for workers and communities around the world to protest these Israeli companies. It followed the rampant death and destruction of parts of Gaza in the May Israel-Hamas war.
Through the protest, the organizers wanted the shipping company, ZIM, to be sure it understood that its ships were not welcome in the Port of New York. ZIM deals in Israeli manufactured military technology armaments, and logistics equipment. It was organized under the title of Block the Boat NY/NJ Coalition by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), New York 4 Palestine, Al-Awada: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, Within Our Lifetime, and several other organizations. It is expected that media coverage will be significant.
The Block the Boat protest is just one of many ways that Palestinian Americans and Palestinians in general have decided to protest unfavorable Israel-U.S. policy.
Another Setback—Palestinians Disappointed by Biden Considerations for Diplomatic Appointments to Israel
Biden’s consideration of a former ambassador to Israel for appointment as envoy to the Middle East, Ambassador Shapiro, is seen by Palestinians as a status quo action. The Washington Post reported that “The role is likely to include a portfolio involving diplomatic accords between Israel and Muslim neighbors that were a hallmark of Middle East policy under President Donald Trump.” The Post further reported that Shapiro might include putting “Biden’s stamp on the Trump-era project of deals known as the Abraham Accords, people familiar with it said, though it was not clear what that entails.”
Palestinians are critical of any Biden plan to consider this Trump normalization plan involving Arab countries “… or encouraging new ones [which] would be a signal that Biden continues to see that approach as valuable despite opposition from senior Palestinian leaders. It could also be a sign that Biden does not see a near-term prospect for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians to form an independent state.” The Abraham Accords basically strengthen links between Muslim Arab countries that had previously refused to accept the legitimacy of Israel.
Palestinians are therefore disappointed with the status quo character of Biden’s picks for ambassadors, as well as the slowness with which he made those appointments.
Perhaps the Last Straw—Netanyahu’s Replacement by Naftali Bennett would make him Israel’s First Religious Leader
It is presumed that Naftali Bennett is a lot like Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the Washington Post, “Both are politicians of the Israeli right, determined to take a hard line in dealing with the Palestinians and committed to their country’s inexorable expansion across land they consider the rightful home of the Jewish people.” But they differ in that Bennett would be the first prime minister to identify as religious, versus secular, and the first to have lived in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, a military occupied territory not recognized as legal under international law.
While Bennett did not remain long as a settler in the West Bank, he fully accepts the religiously inspired idea of Jewish settlements in ancient Judea and Samaria, including their annexation by Israel. This is a policy many Israelis reject, seeing it as extreme. Bennett’s replacement of Netanyahu is acceptable to many Israelis, who have tired of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Bennett’s idea of the possibility of an independent Palestinian state may be even more bleak than Netanyahu’s, however, since Bennett has accepted “…the idea that the biblical homeland of the Jews was eternally deeded to them by God [and] has moved from the fringe to mainstream, and Bennett has ridden this religious Zionist trend to the peak of political power.”
Further evidence that Naftali Bennett is not favorable towards Palestine much less Palestinians is, according to the Post, that he has been “…a fierce advocate of funding, expanding and ultimately annexing the settlements into Israel.”
Since the May 2021 war, there have been some favorable signs of progress for Palestinians. Blinken’s remarks, when he was in the West Bank, seemed favorable. His secretive, unannounced meeting with Palestinian Americans, however, was a step backward. 529 signatories to a letter to Blinkin rejecting his secretive approach represented pushback. Block the Boat is another form of pushback. Biden’s diplomatic appointments to the Middle East have been status quo and, thus, disappointing. Finally, Naftali Bennett’s assumption of the prime minister position, if it comes to fruition, could be a true blow to any notion of a sovereign Palestine.
“Meeting Attendee Recall of issues Discussed at Virtual Roundtable of the U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, with Palestinian American Community Leaders,” 6/4/2021
“Palestinians in the U.S. Reject Meeting with Blinken,” Letter signed by 529 Palestinians, 6/4/2021
“NY-NJ Pro-Palestine Activists Call for Community Protest Against Israeli Ship,” Media Advisory, 6/6/2021
“Biden considering former ambassador to Israel for a new Middle East role,” Washington Post, 6/4/2021
“Naftali Bennett, set to be Israel’s next leader, represents a break with its more secular past,” Washington Post, 6/6/2021
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 advisor 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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