Biden Walks a Tightrope on Human Rights With Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia During His Middle East Trip

Why President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) more controversial than his visit to Israeli? It’s a more complex question than an assessment of most media coverage can reveal — one that is both worth answering and deeply revealing about the current situation in the Middle East.

Biden’s decision to meet MBS was positively and rightly questioned because Saudi Arabia’s young leader responsible for ‘s death Washington Post Journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a host of other human rights violations.

That said, it is also true that Israel’s leaders have created a racist state that entitles the Palestinian people to second-class citizenship, and responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Palestinians, including more recently, Shirin Abu Akleh — who, like Khashoggi, is a famous journalist who actually has closer ties to the US than Khashoggi. (He is a resident of the United States. She is a citizen of the United States.) Whether her death was intentional or reckless, there is every reason to feel compassion for the victims of unreasonable or disproportionate violence in Israel as in other countries in the Middle East.

The sentences are paid to Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh murdered at a rally and vigil at the BBC Broadcasting House on 12 May 2022 in London, England.

Guy Smallman / Getty

Why some commentators say it is unacceptable for Biden to meet MBS to advance many of America’s interests — related to oil prices, Iran policy, regional security, and competition with China — in when they accept it Is it possible to accept Israel despite its abuse of Palestinians? Why is “realism” favored with Israel but considered cheap with Saudi Arabia? Is it because Israel is a long-standing ally, vital to our interests in the region? Is it because it has strong political support in the US?

Without a doubt, it is both. In addition, as a (nominal) democracy, as a longtime friend of the United States, as a beacon for economic growth in the region, Israel has characteristics that Saudi Arabia has to offer. Ut, to this day, is lacking. But part of it, the part that’s hard to admit, the part that we have to understand well, is that the American people, in general, don’t seem to care much about what happens to the Palestinian people.

The previous administration of Donald Trump, essentially chose to completely deny the Palestinians, and even accept a further deterioration of their situation. On the other hand, Biden on this trip took real time to meet the Palestinians, acknowledge the tragedy of Abu Akleh’s death and reiterate US support for a two-state solution. But in terms of concrete progress on the Palestinian issues or the kind of confrontation some advocates have regarding Biden’s meeting with MBS, there’s been little reporting.

Joe Biden speaks during the welcome ceremony during his visit to Israel on July 13, 2022 in Lod, Israel.

Amir Levy / Getty

The president made a resounding comment on Friday, drawing a parallel between the way his Irish Catholic ancestors were treated by the British and the way Palestinians are being treated by Israelis. It’s classic Biden (even as it gets some feedback online from people unaware of the long history of Irish-Palestinian solidarity.) It’s effective, clearly sincere, and has a commendable score for similarity.

But do Americans have anything more to offer the Palestinians than empathy? Are we also guilty of offering them “our thoughts and prayers?” Are we willing to accept that they suffered as the Irish did under the thumb of the British?

Yes, as the president has reaffirmed, our policy is to support the two-state solution. But, is it a policy or a vague hope, a mantra that we repeat more and more in the hope that it will bring us more inner peace than it actually does? would change anything on the ground?

As a rule, we are certainly not pressuring the Israelis in any meaningful or lasting way to change their stance towards the Palestinians. They get all the weapons they want to buy. They have a unique and privileged status among the allies of the United States. In recent years, as Israel has wiped out both the land and the rights of the Palestinians, we have continued to reward their government or, at worst, wave in their direction.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman fists Joe Biden as he arrives at Al Salman Palace, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022.

Bandar Algaloud / Courtesy of the Royal Court of Saudi Arabia / Document broadcast via REUTERS

It is an underappreciated fact that, even if the president is visibly upset about his arrival in Saudi Arabia, the fact that he could be the first US president to fly non-stop from Israel to Saudi Arabia, is that many countries with a Muslim majority in the central region. East has come to the conclusion that other issues have now overshadowed the plight of the Palestinians at the top of their list of most pressing priorities.

Of those issues, none stands out more than the growing threat posed by Iran. It was, is and will remain unchanged during Biden’s current overseas trip.

For example, one of the benefits of the new era in the region is an agreement between many countries – including Israel – to cooperate in enhancing their air defense capabilities. This is directly tied to the fact that one of the main drivers for the normalization process is strengthening defenses against what is seen as a growing Iranian threat.

Iran’s role in this story is complex, central, and also substantial. When the Obama administration entered into the nuclear deal with Iran, it strained America’s relations with many of our friends and allies in the region (namely Israel and several Gulf states). . That’s in part, because Obama’s team didn’t communicate well enough with those friends and allies. It was also partly because those friends and allies did not trust Iran to honor the deal once it was signed. This led to pressure from some friends and allies – and especially Israel – to cancel the deal the Trump administration did.

In retrospect, even Israel’s top national security officials recognize it as a disastrous mistake. Iran, a year away from nuclear weapons, is now a few months away. In turn, this has fueled the urgency of many countries in Iran’s immediate vicinity to find a common defense measure, even if it means doing the once unthinkable. : normalize relations with Israel.

Nor is it to say that normalization among former warring nations is not desirable, or even a breakthrough. It is a big deal. This is one of the daily growing interests for the region.

Meanwhile, Iran, which backs extremist groups among Palestinians and elsewhere targeting Israel (allegedly helping the Palestinians), has inadvertently created a threat so great that it does the impossible. – making Israel an ally with several Arab countries. And that ally, like everything else in this story, comes at the expense of the Palestinians. (Honestly, the only reason Iran wants to “aid” the Palestinians is to harm Israel.)

This is not to say that countries currently normalizing relations with Israel will not use the leverage of deeper ties with Israel to lobby for the Palestinians. There have been notable initiatives to do so.

Nor is it to say that normalization among former warring nations is not desirable, or even a breakthrough. It is a big deal. This is one of the daily growing interests for the region.

One indication of its value is the fact that the Biden administration actively supports it, even though it is an initiative of the Trump administration. But the United States, like all nations involved in this region-wide re-establishment, must monitor pro-Palestinian statements with the kind of pressure that leads to concrete progress on issues important to them. — increase security, stop construction on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and make real progress toward a two-state solution. (For their part, the Palestinians must of course also acknowledge that they would benefit from stronger, more effective leadership and from less affiliation with a pariah state like Iran or with extremist groups. violence.)

We can argue the right balance between values-based foreign policy and realism until the bulls come home. Successive US administrations will strike a different balance between the two, and their critics will howl in one way or another.

We must not give up on our values ​​and we must continually use all the levers we have to advance them. We must also recognize that in today’s world, many of the countries in which we must work to protect our vital national interests do not share all of our values. Sometimes we will disagree with them on important issues. But the lesson of history is clear on this point. To pick just one example, defeating Nazi Germany was important enough to ally with the Stalin-led Soviet Union.

But one thing both realism and values-based foreign policy dictate is that we keep an eye on the consequences of our actions. Not only must the basic rights of the Palestinian people be protected — even if that means standing up against a country that has been and should be one of our closest friends — but we must acknowledging that failure to recognize and protect those rights will ultimately profoundly weaken Israel, curtail stability, negate its ability to call itself a democracy, further eroding its position this country in the world and reduces the value that Israel can bring to partners in the region and around the world.

Palestinians are already second-class citizens, and we must not allow their concerns about a fair future to become a second-class issue. The United States and all of our friends and allies should work harder to advocate for changes that will give the Palestinian people the rights they deserve, not just because it’s the right thing to do but also for our own benefit and that of all our friends and allies across the Middle East and around the world.

David Rothkopf’s company, The Rothkopf Group, produces podcasts and events on US domestic and international topics. One of their clients for such services is the United Arab Emirates Embassy in the US TRG does not lobby. The views in this column are Rothkopf’s own and do not represent views of TRG nor any of its clients.

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