How Biden and Blinken are changing US policy toward Israel and Palestine

The Biden administration has signaled a shift in US policy toward Israel and Palestine, by restoring aid to the Palestinians, endorsing a two-state solution, and criticizing Israeli settlements.

Since taking office in January 2023, President Joe Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken have adopted a different tone from their predecessor Donald Trump, who was widely seen as biased toward Israel and hostile to the Palestinians. Trump had cut off all US aid to the Palestinians, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the US embassy there, and endorsed Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank.

Biden and Blinken, on the other hand, have resumed US humanitarian and development assistance to the Palestinians, amounting to $235 million. They have also reaffirmed the US commitment to a two-state solution, which envisions an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, as the only way to achieve a lasting peace in the region. They have also expressed concern over Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, which are illegal under international law and undermine the prospects of a viable Palestinian state.

A balancing act between allies

However, Biden and Blinken have also maintained the US’s strong alliance with Israel, which they regard as a key partner and a strategic asset in the Middle East. They have reiterated the US’s unwavering support for Israel’s security and right to defend itself against any threats, especially from Iran and its proxies. They have also pledged to uphold the historic normalization agreements that Israel signed with four Arab countries under Trump’s auspices, known as the Abraham Accords.

Biden and Blinken have also avoided any drastic moves that could antagonize Israel or its supporters in the US, such as reversing Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or moving the US embassy back to Tel Aviv. They have also refrained from publicly pressuring Israel to halt its settlement activities or to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, preferring to engage in quiet diplomacy and consultations.

A nod to ‘Palestine’

One of the most notable changes in US policy toward Israel and Palestine under Biden and Blinken has been the use of the term ‘Palestine’ to refer to the Palestinian territories or the Palestinian people. While the US has not formally recognized Palestine as a state, unlike most of the international community, it has started to acknowledge its existence and aspirations in its official statements and documents.

For instance, Blinken recently referred to ‘Palestine’ in a tweet, where he welcomed the resumption of the US-Palestinian partnership and the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem, which serves as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. The State Department also used the term ‘Palestine’ in its annual human rights report, which covers the situation in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

The use of the term ‘Palestine’ by the US officials has been welcomed by the Palestinians and their supporters, who see it as a sign of respect and recognition. However, it has also drawn criticism from Israel and its allies, who view it as a premature and unilateral move that undermines Israel’s sovereignty and legitimacy.

A challenge for the future

The Biden administration faces a daunting challenge in trying to balance its interests and values in its relations with Israel and Palestine, as well as with the wider region and the world. While it seeks to restore the US’s credibility and leadership in the Middle East peace process, it also has to deal with the realities and complexities on the ground, where the prospects of a two-state solution seem dimmer than ever.

The Biden administration will have to navigate the political and diplomatic obstacles that hinder the resumption of meaningful dialogue and cooperation between Israel and Palestine, as well as the humanitarian and security crises that afflict the Palestinian people, especially in Gaza. It will also have to contend with the domestic and international pressures and expectations that shape its policy and actions, as well as the uncertainties and risks that may arise from any unforeseen events or developments.

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