Above photo: Tony Blinken at his confirmation hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jan. 19, 20121. Screenshot.
The Biden administration may be looking to overturn many of the Trump administration’s policies — but not when it comes to Israel.
A new administration has taken over Washington with talk of justice, respect and diversity. However, when it comes to Israel-the news isn’t so encouraging.
Joe Biden’s foreign policy team says it wants to return to the Iran deal, but reassures the Israel lobby that that won’t happen any time soon, and when it comes to actual Palestinian rights or freedom (the “peace process”), it clearly wants as little friction with the Israeli government and Israel’s friends in Washington as possible. I watched all 4-1/2 hours of Tony Blinken’s testimony to Senate Foreign Relations (help!), and he never mentioned occupation, Palestinian human rights, or even settlements.
And Blinken spent a lot of time affirming Donald Trump’s policies in Israel! Notably in his very respectful exchanges with Senator Ted Cruz, who you’d think Blinken might treat with some crust because he tried to deny Biden’s victory.
Cruz: A final question because my time has expired, Do you agree that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and do you commit that the United States will keep our embassy there?
Blinken: Yes and Yes.
Normalization and the peace process
Blinken repeatedly praised Trump policy on normalizing relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and the Sudan as opening a pathway to Palestinian peace.
“I think there are a number of things from where I sat that the Trump administration did beyond our borders that I would applaud…. The Abraham Accords, absolutely… [T]he work that was done to push forward on normalization with Israel, I applaud. It makes Israel safer, it makes the region safer, it’s a good thing. I would hope we can build on that.“
No wonder South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham called Blinken an “outstanding choice.” No wonder Blinken played ball with Graham:
Graham: Do you still consider Iran the largest state sponsor of terrorism?
Blinken: I do.
Graham: Do you consider Israel a racist nation?
Blinken: I do not.
Graham: Good start!
The two men were responding indirectly to Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who said that morning on Democracy Now! that Israel is an “apartheid state” and a “racist state” because it had refused to give coronavirus vaccine to occupied Palestinians even as it inoculated the largely-Jewish population in Israel.
Tlaib is of course echoing a couple of new human rights reports labeling Israel an apartheid nation, but Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL and the rest of the Israel lobby are in denial:
describing Israel as “apartheid” is false and hateful, and shuts down constructive engagement. One can be critical of Israel without attacking the Jewish State with incendiary accusations.
Jeremy Slevin of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s staff had a pointed response.
Human rights advocates—from B’Tselem to the UN Human Rights Council to Jimmy fucking Carter—have all used the term apartheid to describe the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. Yet somehow the ADL only calls it “incendiary” when it comes from a Muslim woman.
Again, Blinken had nothing to say about Palestinian human rights. He used questions about the peace process to gush about the Jewish democratic state, and say two states is a pipe dream– “however distant it may appear” — but it’s our pipe dream.
Our commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct, and this is something that the President elect feels very strongly…
The president-elect believes and I share this conviction, that the best way, and maybe the only way, to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state and to give the Palestinians the state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution, obviously a solution that is very challenged at this moment. I think realistically its hard to see near term prospects for moving forward on that.
Blinken said that it was “important to make sure that neither party takes steps” or “unilateral actions” that make the prospect of two states even “more challenging.”
But bear in mind that Israel has announced even more illegal settlements in recent days, and Blinken was careful not to say a word about that. Though he went on and on about Biden’s “resolute” opposition to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. “It unfairly and inappropriately singles out Israel, it creates a double standard, and a standard that we don’t apply to other countries.” (As if the U.S. accords other countries the “special relationship” it has with Israel.)
I continue to hope that Biden is going to take Netanyahu on. The fact that Biden has named three Israel-supporting Jews to top positions at State (Blinken, Wendy Sherman, Victoria Nuland) indicates to me that he wants the liberal Zionist lobby on his side in doing so.
All the same, Blinken’s rhetoric seems a step back from the last Democratic secretary of state, John Kerry, who blamed Israel for making the peace process vanish in 2014 — “Poof” — and in 2016 warned that the U.S. couldn’t continue to give Israel diplomatic cover if it destroyed the prospect of a Palestinian state and blocked a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. Well Tony Blinken is prepared to give Israel that cover. The clear signal from his hearing is that Biden doesn’t want to tangle with Netanyahu.
The Iran deal
Blinken affirmed that the U.S. will return to the Iran deal, that’s only if Iran goes “back into compliance” with a deal that Donald Trump broke nearly three years ago. “I don’t think that’s anything that’s happening tomorrow or the next day,” he assured hawkish senators on both sides of the aisle.
The same message came yesterday from Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, who read directly from a script in answering the Iran question, saying that though Biden wants to reenter the deal, he wants to toughen it to “address other issues of concern”, meaning Iran’s sponsorship of resistance organizations.
Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani has been way more positive. “Trump’s political life ended today. Trump died but JCPOA lives,” Rouhani crowed yesterday, per Farnaz Fassihi of the NYT.
Rouhani says it will be quid pro quo with Biden: If US signs, so will Iran. If US issues order, so will Iran. If US returns to commitments, so will Iran.
Sadly, the political environment in D.C. is not entirely hospitable. Some of the harshest comments on Iran came from Democratic senators, with Ed Markey calling Iran “the single greatest existential threat in the region,” whatever that means. And Markey was supposed to be the great progressive hope in MA . . .