Biden Promises a Return to the Obama Era. That’s Bad…

Joe Biden is run­ning a cam­paign of restora­tion. The pre­sump­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee nev­er tires of say­ing he wants to restore the soul of the nation,” or of invok­ing his time as vice-pres­i­dent under Barack Obama.

The Biden campaign’s throwback plan on Israel is most evident in how it approaches the over $3 billion in military aid the United States sends to Israel every year.

It’s com­fort­ing rhetoric for many Democ­rats, a way to dream about return­ing to a time before Don­ald Trump.

But for Pales­tini­ans and their allies, Biden’s plan to return Amer­i­ca to the Oba­ma era is a fright­en­ing prospect. With few ques­tions asked, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion armed Israel and blocked efforts to hold Israel account­able in inter­na­tion­al forums. A Biden pres­i­den­cy promis­es to fol­low the same path on Pales­tine — and Pales­tini­ans will pay the price.

Amid his nos­tal­gic cam­paign, Biden has man­aged to promise some change: He’s pledged to invest near­ly $2 tril­lion to com­bat cli­mate change, backed some crim­i­nal jus­tice reforms and says he wants the min­i­mum wage to be raised to $15 an hour.

But on U.S. pol­i­cy towards Israel-Pales­tine, Biden has giv­en no indi­ca­tion he would change a thing from his pre­vi­ous time in the exec­u­tive branch.

Biden wants to reverse some of the Trump administration’s attacks on Pales­tini­ans by restor­ing human­i­tar­i­an aid and secu­ri­ty assis­tance to Palestinians.

He would also stick to the long-stand­ing Wash­ing­ton con­sen­sus on Israel: back nego­ti­a­tions between Pales­tini­ans and Israelis to reach a two-state solu­tion and rhetor­i­cal­ly oppose Israeli set­tle­ment activ­i­ty, but nev­er sanc­tion Israel for its theft of Pales­tin­ian land.

Biden will con­tin­ue to let Israel do what it wants and at the same time sug­ar-coat it — he’s a wolf in sheep’s cloth­ing,” said Huwai­da Arraf, a Pales­tin­ian-Amer­i­can human rights attor­ney and Bernie Sanders del­e­gate to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion. Under the guise of a peace process, he’ll blame the Pales­tini­ans while hor­rors are being com­mit­ted by Israel.”

The Biden campaign’s throw­back plan on Israel is most evi­dent in how it approach­es the over $3 bil­lion in mil­i­tary aid the Unit­ed States sends to Israel every year.

Through­out the 2020 cam­paign sea­son, pro­gres­sives have called on can­di­dates to endorse con­di­tion­ing U.S. mil­i­tary aid to Israel. Such a pol­i­cy would bar Israel from using U.S. mil­i­tary fund­ing to car­ry out demo­li­tions of Pales­tin­ian homes and arrests of Pales­tin­ian chil­dren. Biden, how­ev­er, called the idea of con­di­tion­ing aid bizarre.”

Instead, Biden has pledged to uphold the Oba­ma administration’s com­mit­ment to giv­ing Israel $38 bil­lion in mil­i­tary aid over the next decade with no strings attached. The U.S. weapons Israel buys with that mon­ey go towards bomb­ing Gaza, the coastal enclave under a dev­as­tat­ing Israeli block­ade, and main­tain­ing Israel’s vio­lent mil­i­tary rule over mil­lions of Pales­tini­ans. Dur­ing Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, U.S.-made Hell­fire mis­siles, artillery shells and Mark 84 bombs killed scores of Pales­tin­ian civil­ians in Gaza.

The Biden cam­paign has also pledged to block UN efforts to hold Israel account­able. This cam­paign plank, too, is noth­ing new: In 2009, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion stopped efforts to refer the find­ings of the UN Gold­stone Report, which found Israel com­mit­ted war crimes in its 2009 war in Gaza, to the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court. In 2011, Susan Rice, Obama’s ambas­sador to the UN — and today a lead­ing con­tender to be Biden’s vice-pres­i­dent—vetoed a UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing Israeli set­tle­ments built on Pales­tin­ian land.

But it’s not just Biden’s pol­i­cy pledges that promise more of the same destruc­tive poli­cies on Israel. It’s also his advisers.

His chief for­eign pol­i­cy advis­er is Tony Blinken, Biden’s for­mer Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advis­er and a for­mer Deputy Sec­re­tary of State. Blinken was part of the State Depart­ment team that helped nego­ti­ate the 2016 Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing that com­mit­ted the Unit­ed States to send­ing bil­lions in mil­i­tary aid to Israel. The Biden cam­paign has dis­patched Blinken as an emis­sary to explain Biden’s Israel posi­tions. In a July call with Arab-Amer­i­can activists, Blinken said Biden oppos­es any effort to dele­git­imize or unfair­ly sin­gle out Israel, whether it’s at the Unit­ed Nations or through the BDS move­ment.” Dur­ing a May call with Demo­c­ra­t­ic Major­i­ty for Israel, an AIPAC-linked lob­by group com­mit­ted to stop­ping pro­gres­sives from chang­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty pol­i­cy on Israel, Blinken said Biden would nev­er con­di­tion U.S. mil­i­tary aid to Israel.

It’s not only Blinken who has Pales­tin­ian rights activists dis­s­a­point­ed. Two Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion fig­ures, for­mer U.S. ambas­sador to Israel Dan Shapiro and for­mer Under­sec­re­tary of State Wendy Sher­man, played key roles in draft­ing the DNC plat­form lan­guage on Israel. The result was ugly: The plat­form did not men­tion the words Israeli occu­pa­tion” and endorsed the Oba­ma administration’s mil­i­tary aid agree­ment with Israel. The DNC also reject­ed amend­ments to the plat­form lan­guage that called on the Unit­ed States to con­di­tion aid to Israel so that US mon­ey doesn’t sub­si­dize Israeli human rights abuses.

But while the Biden cam­paign isn’t giv­ing Pales­tin­ian rights activists a rea­son to cheer, their out­look isn’t all grim. If Biden wins the White House, he will be con­fronting a slow­ly-grow­ing pro­gres­sive bloc of law­mak­ers who do want to con­di­tion U.S. mil­i­tary aid to Israel.

That is where the hope is, if we con­tin­ue to elect pro­gres­sives into offices that are going to help change the debate,” said Arraf, the Pales­tin­ian-Amer­i­can human rights lawyer.

In June, as fears grew about Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu’s plan to for­mal­ly annex West Bank set­tle­ments to Israel, 13 law­mak­ers, led by Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.), signed a let­ter pledg­ing to with­hold some US mil­i­tary aid if Israel car­ries out annex­a­tion. It also warned that annex­a­tion would lead to Israel becom­ing an apartheid state,” unusu­al­ly strong lan­guage from Demo­c­ra­t­ic mem­bers of Congress.

The let­ter was a sign of how embold­ened pro­gres­sives are becom­ing on Israel. If there’s one thing that’s clear about a Biden White House, it’s that he will do his best not to fol­low these pro­gres­sives’ lead. But a clash over U.S. fund­ing of Israeli human rights abus­es may come any­way. The Biden White House will have to con­tend with a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty that doesn’t take its cues from Oba­ma-aligned Democ­rats. Pro­gres­sives will be look­ing to see if Biden can be forced to change.

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