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Biden’s toothless position on Israeli annexation: another Middle East mistake?

Chemi Shalev, who has been regaling his readership in Haaretz with his excellent reporting on Israel’s and America’s political realities, recently warned Israelis that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden just fired “an annexation warning shot across Bibi’s bow.” It was “a bolt from the blue,” Shalev wrote, that may herald a new American determination to preserve the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Shalev was referring to Biden’s criticism, in a speech he made to a group of Jewish Democratic donors, of Netanyahu’s determination to annex not only the illegal Jewish settlements, but larger parts of the West Bank that would deny Palestinians statehood and national self-determination.

Unfortunately, Shalev could not have been more mistaken. Biden’s statement that elicited Shalev’s optimism was anything but a “warning shot.” It was his assurance to his contributors that nothing will change. For Biden explicitly ruled out denying Israel’s government the vast financial aid it receives from the United States, not only for its security needs but also for securing its occupation and disenfranchisement of the Palestinians.

If anything is to be learned from the half century-long history of the miserably failed U.S. Middle East peace policy it is that if Israeli governments come to believe there is no price whatever to be paid by them for denying Palestinian statehood, they will never allow Palestinian statehood nor end their occupation.

Israeli governments have also learned that in order to justify the impunity granted to Israel, U.S. administrations are willing to pretend that they believe Israeli claims that the PLO has failed not only to recognize Israel’s legitimacy but also to forego terrorism or accept Israel’s Jewish identity.

These claims are outright lies. Yet it is exactly these false allegations that Biden cited in his speech at the Democratic fundraiser to justify his refusal to impose meaningful sanctions against Israel if he wins the presidency.

In fact, not only has the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace, and accepted the U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 in 1993, but it is Israel that never recognized a Palestinian right to statehood.  The official position of all Likud-led Israeli governments explicitly denies Palestinians the right to statehood and self-determination, on even a single square mile of Palestinian territory. The largest official caucus in Israel’s Knesset — which would have to approve any withdrawal from the occupied territories with a super majority — the Eretz Yisrael Hashlemah, or “The Complete Land of Israel Caucus,” was established to ensure this would never happen.

The other two charges Biden cited — that Mahmoud Abbas still encourages terrorism and refuses to recognize the Jewish identity of the State of Israel — are equally bogus. No one has been more appreciative of Abbas’ long-standing opposition to terrorism and collaboration with Israel’s security forces than Israel’s own security forces. They have given Abbas and his PLO security forces credit for having prevented a third of all attempted terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. This Abbas has done despite being accused by many Palestinians of collaborating with their oppressors.

To back this false charge, Netanyahu points to the PLO’s granting of financial support to families of terrorists imprisoned or killed by Israel. But that is exactly what the Jews did for the families of Jewish terrorists of the Irgun and Stern gang when they were fighting for their independence. That, too, is what Palestinians under Israel’s occupation are now fighting for. Israel is fighting to preserve its occupation, and that is what U.S. military aid is supporting.

As to the charge that Palestinians won’t affirm the Jewishness of Israel’s national identity, there is absolutely no reason they should. Countries need to be called by their self­-designated name. If Israel were to change its name to the Jewish State of Israel, countries that have formal relations with it would have to address Israel by that name. But they would have no obligation to affirm the legitimacy of whatever ideology is claimed by that name. No country that recognizes the Democratic Republic of the Congo is obliged to affirm that country’s democracy. Can Hungary demand that other countries endorse what its authoritarian leader calls an “illiberal democracy”?

If Israel wishes to establish Judaism as its national identity, as its Knesset recently did, that is its own business. There is a word for Israel’s insistence that other countries — and particularly Palestinians, whose national legitimacy Israel totally denies — declare their endorsement of Israel’s religious and cultural designation of its national identity. That word is chutzpa.

An honest reexamination of the changing realities in Israel would require Biden to address President Obama’s warning to Israel’s government that its rejection of a two-state solution that continues the disenfranchisement Palestinians in the West Bank would turn Israel into an apartheid state. Netanyahu has now confirmed that the disenfranchisement will continue. Biden has rightly stressed the partnership he had with President Obama and his policies when he served as his Vice President. Should he not then explain how he would justify continuing unprecedented U.S. funding of an apartheid regime in Israel? Would he have done so with an apartheid regime in South Africa?

Since Biden’s Republican opponent is someone whose ignorance, grossness, and moral depravity have so deeply sullied and disgraced America’s name, we must be grateful for having been given a choice. Biden is a decent human being and experienced statesman, and he may yet come to realize how badly he has been misled on this issue, especially by those who have learned so little from their past mistakes, and insist on repeating them. After all, Biden proved again only recently that he has the integrity to admit and correct his mistakes.

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