U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to a gathering of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Monday. It was as clear a snapshot of Joe Biden’s administration’s failure, futility, and fatally flawed approach to Israel and Palestine.
Anyone who had heard Blinken’s vapid speech last year at the conference of the more dovish pro-Israel group, J Street, could spot the difference in tone immediately, despite the great similarity in substance. At J Street, Blinken spoke at the crowd, striking a tone of professional detachment, with a strong sense of lecturing, and even sometimes challenging his audience. At AIPAC, Blinken exuded a more relaxed manner, as if in the company of friends who, it is understood, are largely on the same wavelength.
Some parts of the speech at AIPAC were lifted word-for-word from the J Street speech, including not only the pro forma language about “iron-clad” support for Israeli security and the like, but also a conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel and the idea that the United States supports freedom of expression, except for that of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS).
But in many ways the message was the same. After Blinken’s appearance at J Street, I wrote, “While AIPAC is the villain supporting election deniers and the American far right, the Biden administration’s direction on Palestine and Israel is now closer to them than it is to J Street… it is a reflection that even the moderate ideas of J Street are just too much for “pro-Israel” Democrats. The truth is, they always were.”
Blinken made that clear again, laying out the Biden administration’s vision of a Middle East where Israel is in full partnership with Arab autocrats, having subdued the Palestinians, and telling the AIPAC audience, “I’m grateful to AIPAC, to each and every one of you, who are working to make real this better future.”
Animating the Two-State Zombie
“Last month, we marked 75 years since the founding of the State of Israel. Today – today – we celebrate 75 years of the U.S.-Israeli partnership,” Blinken told the crowd. Although he was obviously referring to 1948, he made that remark on the 56th anniversary of the start of the June 1967 war, which saw the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel.
That was indeed a momentous time, six days that have shaped the politics of the entire region ever since. But it’s not a stretch to say that was also the incident that fully birthed the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership. Before that war, the relationship was certainly close and growing closer, but there remained many who wondered if Israel could survive, given its still-struggling economy and its ongoing enmity with its neighboring countries. The swift and decisive Israeli victory largely quelled those concerns and placed Israel squarely at the center of U.S. strategy in the Middle Easta place it would occupy first as a Cold War client and then independently ever since.
For at least the last decade, U.S. administrations have used the desiccated corpse of the two-state solution as a sort of diplomatic and political sleight of hand. The facts on the ground — combined with political realities which include Israel’s explicit disavowal of the two-state solutionwhich Americans continue to pretend hasn’t happened — have long since killed any chance of a two-state solution, something even some proponents of that cause have been forced to admit. But it is a useful tool to create the illusion of a semblance of even-handedness while ensuring that it is impossible for Palestinians to make any progress in trying to secure their rights.
At AIPAC, Blinken again reanimated the two-state zombie. “As the President said on his recent trip to Israel and the West Bank last summer, a two-state solution — based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps — remains the best way to achieve our goal of Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace, with equal measures of security, freedom, justice, opportunity, and dignity,” he told the crowd which remained pointedly silent at the mention of this idea.
Blinken elaborated on a number of points that illustrate very well just how big a role the U.S. has played and continues to play in ensuring that Israel can maintain its dominance and, quite literally, get away with murder.
Why, in Blinken’s view, is the two-state solution important?
“Israel was founded — our partnership was built — on democratic values,” he said, “which include equal access by all people to their rights. And a two-state solution is vital to preserving Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Israel was founded on no such values. Even if we, as Blinken clearly does, ignore the massive dispossession and ethnic cleansing that defined the birth of Israel — the Nakba — for Palestinians (and the inherent contradiction in the idea of a “Jewish and democratic state”), for the first 19 years of Israel’s existence, its Arab “citizens” lived under martial law. This was lifted only in 1966, mere months before the 1967 war, and the beginning of the occupation. Since thenPalestinian citizens of Israel have faced severe discrimination, while fellow Palestinians have lived under occupation or in refugee camps. Anti-Arab racism and legalized Jewish supremacy have been the defining characteristics of Israel from day one.
How does Blinken want to keep the two-state “hope” alive?
By the agreements struck at Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh earlier this year, he told AIPAC. By this, he is referring to agreements that Israel literally disavowed and violated as soon as the meetings in those places ended, and which required that Israel only make a pledge not to announce new settlements for six months, a period which by some strange coincidence matched exactly the bureaucratic calendar that dictated that in around six months the committee that decides on new settlements would make its next announcement. In exchange, Israel and the U.S. demanded that the Palestinian Authority crack down hard on the new militant groups that were gaining popularity in Jenin and Nablus.
And what threatens Blinken’s imaginary two-state solution?
Blinken says that includes “any actions taken by any party that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution. That includes acts of terrorism, payments to terrorists in prison, violence against civilians, incitement to violence.” In other words, only things he accuses the Palestinians of.
Blinken didn’t mention, for instance, the reopening of the settlement at Homeshan extremist settlement even by the standards of Israeli settlement, which has now been radicalized further because it was one of the four West Bank settlements Israel withdrew from in 2005 as part of the redeployment from Gaza. Its restoration is a symbol and rallying cry for the most violent and nationalistic elements in Israeli society. But Homesh, despite repeated yet thoroughly impotent and toothless U.S. objections, did not merit a place on Blinken’s list of threats to his fantasy solution. On the other hand, meager welfare payments to families who have lost their main breadwinners is on that list.
Blinken made no mention of the extremism of the current Israeli government. He would do no more than call for “compromise” on so-called “judicial reform,” because the idea of “democratic principles” is as foreign to Blinken as it is to his audience at AIPAC.
Most starkly, Blinken made no mention of the statement issued the same day from the office of Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen calling for the administration to de-classify the full report of the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Israel’s killing of Palestinian journalist and American citizen Shireen Abu Akleh last year. As Rep. Rashida Tlaib said last month“It’s not just that the Biden administration hasn’t done anything to achieve justice for Shireen; it’s that they are actively working to block any form of accountability.” Despite the fact that the State Department and White House barely even try to hide their complicity in covering up Shireen’s murder, Blinken does not see this as worth mentioning as an obstacle to diplomacy.
Blinken also touted the Abraham Accords, the agreements brokered by the Donald Trump administration and which Biden and Blinken have tried to expand with almost no success. The deals essentially offer normalization with Israel in exchange for U.S. weapons and trade benefits while thoroughly abandoning the Palestinians.
Yet while Blinken points at a Trump policy and tries to claim it as Biden’s, the policy he’s touting is failing dramatically. It has not brought the benefits to the United Arab Emirates that they had expected, and now that the U.S.-U.A.E. relationship is starting to deteriorateEmirati enthusiasm for the Accords is ebbing as well. Saudi Arabia is wary of warming ties with Israel without an agreement with the Palestinians. And China has already shown more success in Middle East diplomacy in a few short months than the U.S. has in decades.
None of those points deterred Blinken from a completely false narrative about regional dynamics. While the Palestinians were reduced by Blinken, once again, to mere talking points and terrorists, he touted his grandfather’s ability to convince Harry Truman to recognize Israel immediately after its declaration of independence in 1948. Blinken closed by speaking of Truman’s “vision” of a Middle East partnership for “mutual advantage.”
“I’m grateful to AIPAC, to each and every one of you, who are working to make real this better future,” he said in closing. It was a perfectly dishonest description of the audience, capping a disingenuous speech, but one which the audience and speaker happily accepted as the mask over the cruel and violent policies they are pursuing very much in partnership.
Yet the fact that AIPAC’s days of policy conference galas for such events have been replaced with a need for dimmer lights on their activities offers hope. Their new effort to win through direct campaign financing, and their recognition that Israel and its fanatical authoritarianism and apartheid won’t sell well to a growing number of Americans, shows they know they are losing the battle of public opinion. While they still have right-wing Democrats like Biden and Blinken, the number of such true believers in Washington is shrinking, and fantasy narratives like the one Blinken spun are appealing to a smaller audience each day. There’s hope to be found in that.