It took less than a week for the Biden administration to return to the Obama-Biden policy of moral equivalency, or what I prefer to call immoral equivalency—the policy of viewing Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and their respective actions, as being on the same moral plane.
On Jan. 26—just six days after the inauguration—U.S. President Joe Biden’s acting representative at the United Nations, Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills, announced that the administration supports creating a Palestinian state. In practical terms, that means making Israel nine miles wide again, as it was before 1967.
In order to facilitate that goal, Mills said, the United States is “urging” Israel and the Palestinian Authority “to avoid unilateral steps” that would make the creation of a Palestinian state “more difficult.” Those steps include “settlement activity,” “demolitions,” “incitement to violence” and “providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”
Thus, the Biden administration is putting two Israeli actions that are legal, peaceful and permitted by the Oslo Accords in the same category as two P.A. policies that are illegal, violent and prohibited by the Oslo Accords. That’s outrageous.
There is nothing in the Oslo Accords that prevents the creation of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. It happens that since 1992 (prior to Oslo), the consistent policy of successive Israeli governments has been to refrain from authorizing the establishment of new communities there. But that’s a matter of choice, not an Oslo obligation.
There is also nothing in the Oslo agreements that prohibits construction within existing Jewish communities in the territories, which is probably what the Biden administration means by the term “settlement activity.” Building apartments, or anything else, there is legal and peaceful. It does not deprive Arabs of their homes. It does not interfere with the possibility of peace. All it does is continue normal life in those communities.
And there is nothing in the Oslo Accords that prevents Israel from continuing its longstanding policy—fully authorized by Israel’s left-leaning High Court—of dismantling the homes of terrorists.
By contrast, what Mills called “incitement to violence” and paying “compensation” to imprisoned terrorists—that is, incentivizing terrorism—are prohibited by the many anti-terrorism provisions in the Oslo Accords.
I’ll cite just a few. These come from the September 1995 agreement known as Oslo II.
- Article XV, paragraph 1 says that the P.A. must “prevent acts of terrorism” and “take legal measures against offenders.” Obviously, inciting and incentivizing acts of terrorism violates that provision, and also violate these similar provisions:
- Annex 1, Article II, Paragraph 1(b): “The Palestinian police will act systematically against all expressions of violence and terror.”
- Annex 1, Article II, Paragraph 2: The P.A. must “immediately and effectively respond to the occurrence of anticipated occurrence of an act of terrorism, violence or incitement and shall take all necessary measures to prevent such an occurrence.”
- Annex 1, Article II, Paragraph 3(b): The P.A. must “actively prevent incitement to violence.”
- Annex 1, Article II, Paragraph 1(c): The P.A. must “apprehend, investigate and prosecute perpetrators and all other persons directly or indirectly involved in acts of terrorism, violence and incitement.”
There are more passages like these, but you get the idea.
Halting incitement and stopping policies that incentivize terrorism are not “good ideas” or “confidence-building measures.” They are the P.A.’s signed, sworn obligations. The Biden administration cannot just hope that the P.A. fulfills them; it has to insist that they do. Because otherwise, no treaty or agreement ever signed by the P.A. will ever have any value.
And that goes to the heart of the problem with the Biden administration’s emerging policy towards Israel and the P.A.: It appears to be based on ideology, not behavior. Biden’s Mideast advisers are shaping an approach based on ideological predilections—what they believe an ideal peace settlement would look like, what they believe would be appropriate borders, what they believe is fair or reasonable. It’s all based on belief—not on how the P.A. has actually behaved since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.
A realistic Mideast policy would look to what happened between 1993 and 2020 in order to gauge expectations for the years ahead. See what the P.A. has done in order to understand what it is likely to do in the future. See whether it has fulfilled its Oslo obligations before asking Israel to make more concessions in exchange for more promises.
That would be a sensible U.S. policy. Right now, the Biden administration is moving in exactly the opposite direction.
Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”