U.S. Department of State message to the Palestinians—sugar-coated, empty rhetoric
By: John Mason/ Arab America Contributing Writer
U.S. Secretary of Sate Blinken’s recent message to the Palestinians, combined with one to the Israelis, conflated peace and security for both parties. Blinken seemed to be responding to a strong message from members of Congress to the Biden team that it begin to deal with the issue of Israel’s occupation of Palestinians’ rights and their land.
Blinkin Blinks, same-old message to the Palestinians
Newly minted U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, recently assured the world that the official position of the U.S. was that Palestinians should enjoy ‘equal measures’ of freedom, security, prosperity and democracy. At the same time, according to Haaretz, he reiterated the U.S.’ “strong commitment to Israel and its security and looks forward to strengthening all aspects of the U.S.-Israel relationship.” This statement is part and parcel of the U.S. strategy concerning the Israel-Palestine conundrum—an appetizer to the Palestinians, a banquet for the Israelis.
Blinken’s ‘kind words’ to the Palestinians were presumed to be the focus of his statement, basically an attempt to distance President Biden’s pro-Israel policy from his predecessor’s hook-line-and-sinker support for the Netanyahu regime. The Secretary’s statement was made in a telcon with the Israeli Foreign Minister. In that conversation, Blinken also addressed humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, as well as efforts to normalize relations with Arab and Muslim majority countries. Biden’s stance on normalization may be tempered by some Arab countries’ insistence on resolving the Israel-Palestine dispute before moving on to a deal with Israel.
In an earlier March article, CounterPunch, ‘Blinken Blinks on Human Rights,’ suggested that Blinken will not be a crusader for human rights. Based on a recent speech, Blinken spoke of a long list of U.S. overseas priorities, among which human rights was conspicuously absent. Characterizing that speech, CounterPunch averred that “Blinken decided that a human rights crusade won’t fly when it stands exposed as doublespeak and hypocrisy.” This opinion is particularly salient given how far the U.S. State Department went in avoiding the fact of Saudi Arabia’s murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Congressional pressure on U.S. Palestinian policy—is it beginning to register?
A recent Arab America post addressed the issue of greater fairness by the Biden administration towards Palestinians by fulfilling its campaign promises. House members and Senators sent letters to the State Department reminding it that it had lots to make up after four years of extreme favoritism towards Netanyahu’s Israel. Their letters urged the Biden administration to “ground its engagement on Palestine and Israel in international law and human rights and undo the damage done by the Trump administration.” These communications were initiated by Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, along with Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.
Specifically, the 12 Congress officials wrote in their letter, “We believe the State Department should condemn Israel’s home demolitions in unequivocal terms and take effective and timely diplomatic action to end this policy.” They furthermore demanded Israeli conformity with international law, by “providing for public health measures in Occupied Palestinian Territory,” including Covid vaccinations of all Palestinians living under the military occupation.
The Senators’ letter addressed the broader issue of reviving hopes of peace and ensuring security for both Israelis and Palestinians. More to the point, the letter stipulated that the continued occupation of Palestinians by Israel would only result in further encroachment on their rights and their land.
It is possible that the Blinken message was designed to appease concerned Congressional members. Whether it responded to their points is another question. Specifically, did the speech answer the question of whether the Biden administration had yet voiced “any criticism of Israeli government policies, including on the issues of settlements and vaccination?” The message seems to have failed on that point, since it inextricably tied the peace and security of the Palestinians to that of the Israelis.
The problem with that linkage is that for the most part, the Israelis have peace and security, while the Palestinians have neither.
Will the Biden administration take the Palestinian issue seriously?
On the Blinken watch so far, it looks like there is a modest attempt underfoot to appease the Palestinians. It is only, however, on the level of words that the effort seems to be occurring. That is because the Israeli occupation continues to be a taboo subject, stigmatized by any criticism. The other continuing constraint on dealing with the Israel-Palestine tragedy is that any advocacy of Palestinian rights is equated with anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.
As noted in the Arab America post, “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.”
The Blinken message lacked conviction, creating a false sense of security for Palestinians—or basically, none. Kindness that equates to sweet talk or sugar-coating comes nowhere close to answering Congress, much less in responding to the continuing travails of occupied Palestinians.
“’Palestinians Should Enjoy ‘Equal Measures,’ Blinken Says to Israeli Counterpart,”Haaretz, 4/3/2021
“Blinken Blinks on Human Rights,” CounterPunch, 3/8/2021
“Congress Pressures Biden and Company for Fairness towards Palestinians,” Arab America, 3/17/2021
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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