Last Tuesday, March 9, marked the 11th anniversary of a visit to Israel by America’s then-vice president, Joe Biden. He was welcomed with an announcement by the Interior Ministry of a plan to build 1,600 apartments in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.
The high-level visitor responded with a statement of his own, saying: “I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units.” In both its content and its timing – just before the launch of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians – the announcement “undermines the trust we need right now,” he added.
Ostensibly, the current Likud party candidate had good reason to fear that Biden would seize the opportunity of last week’s anniversary to remind Israeli voters that the superpower he represents is no longer in Bibi’s pocket. The U.S. president could have reopened the PLO office in Washington. And who’s stopping him from demanding that Israel immediately freeze construction in the settlements, as demanded by the so-called U.S. road map for peace and UN Security Council Resolution 1515?
He wouldn’t have been the first to put pressure on Israel over this issue during an election campaign. The elder President George Bush (a Republican) did exactly that 30 years ago, when he demanded that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, then running for reelection on the Likud ticket, choose between economic aid (in the form of U.S. loan guarantees) and the settlements. That confrontation helped the Labor Party, then headed by Yitzhak Rabin, win the 1992 election.
But Biden doesn’t have to go back to the previous century to find a precedent for U.S. intervention in an Israeli election. Donald Trump’s administration showered countless goodies on the Israeli right, to the Republican Senate’s applause and the settlers’ delight. Moreover, the former American president and the rulers of the Gulf states, Morocco and Sudan (whom Trump recruited to help Netanyahu, behind the backs of the prime minister’s partners in the Kahol Lavan party) have been stationed at the head of Netanyahu’s foreign legion during his election campaigns.
To be fair, we should also recall that Vladimir Putin, that noted democrat, also starred in Likud’s campaign advertisements. The Russian president, too, contributed a thing or two to the glorification of Netanyahu – the man who never misses an opportunity to declare that Israel alone will decide its future.
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Who else can pick up the phone to Moscow to try to get Syria to return the remains of a Jewish soldier, or to free a female Israeli prisoner and allow a bizarre stray to return home? Yair Lapid? Naftali Bennett? Gideon Sa’ar? And have we mentioned yet that Netanyahu is the COVID-19 vaccine wizard?
Now Netanyahu is receiving tacit acquiescence from “my friend” Biden for the assaults he and his gang of thugs are perpetrating on Israeli democracy. The premier is showing voters that no U.S. president will stand in the way of him promoting a quiet transfer in the West Bank and imposing an apartheid regime in the territories. And as if that weren’t enough, the Biden administration has been quick to side with Netanyahu in his conflict with the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s condemnation of the court’s decision to investigate Israeli actions against Palestinians in the territories ignored the occupation. Instead, he promised that America “will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.” Likud’s copywriter could simply copy and paste that text.
State Department Spokesman Ned Price added that the ICC has exceeded its authority, because “we do not believe the Palestinians qualify as a sovereign state.” How very true. With an American policy of condemnations and a stick made of feathers against occupation policy, Netanyahu will continue to make sure they don’t qualify as such for many years to come.