Biden Mideast agenda comes crashing down in Gaza

For years, many analysts of United States foreign policy have argued that our myopic and lock-step support for Israel harms our interests in the Middle East. Their case has been powerfully boosted by the reactions to our policy toward Israel’s merciless bombardment and invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s actions have undermined American credibility and influence in the Middle East. That was made crystal clear during U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken‘s latest tour of the region that began last week. Of course, all of these countries rely on the U.S. in one way or another, whether for arms purchases, diplomacy, or trade. But one after another rebuffed Blinken in very clear terms.

It started in Israel. Blinken arrived with President Joe Biden’s full backing for $14.3 billion in supplemental aid that, although currently stalled in Congress because of Republican poison pill conditions attached to it, someone as knowledgeable of U.S. politics as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows is a virtual certainty to arrive in Israeli coffers soon. 

Unfortunately for Blinken, that sort of thing doesn’t make Netanyahu any more charitable. He tried to convince Netanyahu to allow for a “humanitarian pause,” a break in Israel’s onslaught so they could try to get some of the hostages being held by Hamas out, and get more humanitarian aid in to Gaza. Netanyahu refused, very publicly. And then he punctuated that refusal by bombing a convoy of ambulances and several hospitals in Gaza. 

Next was Jordan, where Blinken held a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. Neither diplomat seemed very warm to Blinken. The Secretary tried to smooth over those rough spots, saying “We’ve come together here today sharing the same fundamental interest and objective: to end this conflict in a way that ensures lasting peace and security in the region.  We may have different views and positions on certain necessary steps to achieve that objective, but today we reaffirmed our individual commitments to continuing to work toward that end, an end that we share.”

The goal of ending the conflict in the manner Blinken describes is akin to agreeing that water is wet. That outcome is one that everyone wants, whether they are advocates for justice or not. 

But the chill in the air was given substance by Blinken’s Arab interlocutors. “As we said before at the Arab League…we consider that this is a war crime that we will stop with all our strengths,” Safadi said in Arabic. “The Arab countries, the Arab world demand an immediate ceasefire that will end this war and end the killing of the innocent and the destruction it is causing.  And we don’t accept that it is a self-defense; it is a ranging war that is killing civilians, destroying their homes, their hospitals, their schools, their mosques, and their churches.  It cannot be justified under any pretext, and it will not bring Israel security; it will not bring the region peace. The killing must stop, and also Israel immune from committing war crimes must stop.”

If there was any doubt that Safadi was indicting the Biden administration with his words, his mention of Israeli immunity—a clear reference to the diplomatic protection that the United States gives Israel to prevent it from facing any consequences for its actions—dispelled those questions. This was not coming from a Hezbollah or Iranian leader, but from Jordan, a country that has had a relationship with Israel for nearly thirty years and is dependent on U.S. aid now more than ever as its economy struggles. 

Yet Safadi, who also had polite words for Blinken to soften the blow, felt it important to clearly and publicly rebuke him. Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry, whose country might be even more desperate for U.S. economic help, was even more blunt. After plainly stating that Israel was committing acts of collective punishment and targeting civilians, he turned his ire to American double standards. 

“[W]e should not deal with this crisis of international peace and security in a double standard where, while some are condemning targeting civilians and describing this as a gross violation of humanitarian law and to adhere to the demands of a ceasefire, while we find that they are opposed the same principles for the same people when things are related to the Palestinian cause, as if the Arab blood is lesser than the bloods of other people,” he said, with Blinken standing right next to him. 

This was an obvious reference to the marked difference between the United States’ attitude to Russian war crimes in Ukraine and Israel’s in Gaza. While many pundits and advocates have noted this difference, for a U.S. ally to draw it in such a direct manner with the Secretary of State standing right there is almost unimaginable. 

Both the Jordanian and Egyptian ministers were unequivocal in calling out Israel’s crimes, but they were equally clear—even if a bit more diplomatic—that they saw the United States as complicit and bearing a significant measure of responsibility and blame for the horrific slaughter in Gaza.  One can only wonder if these words gave Blinken any cause to consider whether his obvious contempt for Palestinian life had not done more harm to U.S. interests than he thought it would.

From Amman, it was on to Ankara. But when Blinken got to Turkiye, he found that Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan was in the country’s Black Sea region, “sharing cups of tea with locals.” That is hardly a trip that necessitates missing a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State, the sort of meeting Erdogan typically hosts himself. 

Turkiye—which, along with Jordan, are the only two Middle Eastern countries to have recalled their ambassadors from Israel due to its war crimes so far—has historically found it difficult to maintain ties with Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians. Blinken met Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan for quite a while, but the readout from the meeting was extremely brief, and the two did not hold a joint press conference. Even Blinken’s comments regarding Turkiye in his solo press availability were brief and vague. This is a strong indication that the meeting did not go well. 

And why should it? What is Blinken trying to sell to Turkiye, to Jordan, to Egypt, to the entire Arab and Muslim world? That they should work with the United States while Israel annihilates the population of Gaza? That they should strive to prop up a zombified vision of two states in historic Palestine? 

Yes, all the Middle Eastern leaders can agree that they’d like to see this situation resolved and the region brought into greater stability. Of course, that also means various levels of authoritarianism and economic inequality throughout the region. That doesn’t bother Blinken or Biden; it’s only Arabs and Muslims, after all. But, while regional leaders may be personally willing to tolerate apartheid in Israel and Palestine, they understand that it is incompatible with regional stability even if Blinken and Biden do not.

That lack of understanding was made clear by Blinken’s unannounced stop in Ramallah. Doubtless, the lack of warning that he was coming was, at least in part, dictated by security concerns. But in his meeting with PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Blinken, according to the State Department readout, did no more than mark the usual talking points, as if he was not currently engaged in facilitating an unprecedented massacre of Palestinian civilians. 

On another stop in Baghdad, Blinken told reporters that Palestinian voices needed to be “at the center” of talks about the future of Gaza and the West Bank. At the same time, he has made it clear that he and his boss want the Palestinian Authority to run Gaza, or whatever Israel decides will be left of it. This ignores the PA’s complete lack of credibility with Palestinians—a dearth that has only been made greater as they have watched Abbas stand by helpless, and largely silent, as Israel’s carries out its genocidal program in Gaza and settlers and soldiers kill scores more Palestinians in the West Bank with total impunity. 

Abbas’ quisling fecklessness aside, the United States’ allies in the region have made it clear they are tired of the shameless cover for Israel’s atrocities and the current wholesale slaughter of Palestinians has finally crossed a line even for them. In Turkiye, Blinken showed he is not getting the message, saying, “Every country I talk to is looking for us to play a leading role with our diplomacy to try to make progress on all of these different aspects of the crisis.”

Yes, but those countries are also screaming at you for not playing a constructive role with “our diplomacy.” Blinken is saying they want American help, and they do, but he’s ignoring what they are specifically asking for. At the moment, they’d very much like us to stop the genocide unfolding in Gaza rather than facilitate it. Blinken is simply ignoring that plea, and the United States’ position in the region is suffering for it. 

One side effect is a growing impetus to abandon confrontation with Iran in favor of diplomacy. That’s a very positive development for the region and the world, but it undermines the bipartisan Washington consensus on the region. 

Biden went into a panic earlier this year when China facilitated a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In its wake, he doubled down on his Israel-Saudi normalization madness. Now that effort is on hold, which is good news for everyone in the region, even the short-sighted Israelis. 

In a further boost to the diplomatic approach that Biden is so contemptuous of, Iran announced on Monday that its President, Ebrahim Raisi, would be attending an Organization of Islamic Cooperation conference that will focus on Palestine.

The conference will be held in Riyadh, marking the highest-level visit to Saudi Arabia by an Iranian official since the Chinese-brokered deal was consummated. Biden’s agenda in the region, like his predecessor, Donald Trump, depended on uniting Israel with Arab states against Iran. But his complete devaluing of Palestinian lives has derailed that agenda completely. 

At this point, it would take a dramatic reversal of his position on Palestine to even partially salvage the U.S.’ sundered credibility in the region. This is going to mean that Biden and Blinken will continue to get the cold shoulder in the region and that the future of the U.S.’ relationship with the Arab world and with Israel will have to be reevaluated. Gaza has proven that the United States’ blind support of Israel is incompatible with its needs in the Arab world. 

The U.S. has a choice to make; not between Israel and the Arab world, but between its current, unconditional support for Israel and its ability to further its regional agenda. 

There is still a way to balance those competing interests, and that is by backing real Palestinian freedom. That means supporting the Palestinians’ right to choose their own future. The United States will have to acknowledge that who leads Palestinian talks with other countries, who runs the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and whatever else might be agreed to in the future, is the sole and, crucially, sovereign decision of the Palestinian people. It is not for Israel or the United States or the ever more ephemeral “international community” to make those decisions for Palestinians any more than it is for them to make those decisions for any other people. 

That’s obviously not a decision Biden is capable of making. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine what potential president could make such a decision. But until someone does, there is no way to bring the coveted stability to the region. 

At Mondoweiss, we understand the power of telling Palestinian stories. For 17 years, we have pushed back when the mainstream media published lies or echoed politicians’ hateful rhetoric. Now, Palestinian voices are more important than ever.

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