OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Will the Biden administration escape the failed policies of a bygone era?

One of Biden’s top diplomats has raised red flags regarding a possible return to false paradigms that have deadlocked the Israel-Palestinian conflict for the last 27 years.

Richard M. Mills, Jr., then-Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, November 2018. Credit: U.S. Department of State via Wikimedia Commons.
Richard M. Mills, Jr., then-Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, November 2018. Credit: U.S. Department of State via Wikimedia Commons.
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

While Israel has for decades counted Joe Biden as a friend, Israel supporters have known since his election as president that Biden himself is not the only concern. His party has gained voices opposing Israel’s interests, and Biden administration staff include both Obama-era “Israel skeptics” as well as some frankly hostile to the Jewish state.

Last week, one of Biden’s top diplomats raised red flags that we may return to the faulty and failed thinking that has ensured no progress in resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict for the last 27 years.

In a speech to the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on the Situation in the Middle East, Ambassador Richard Mills, Acting Representative of the U.S. Mission to the U.N., laid out some of the administration’s “new” principles and policies regarding the conflict.

In fact, many of Mill’s tenets demonstrate that the Biden administration may be regressing.

Firstly, during his remarks, Mills referred to a “two-state solution” four times. He went on to say that “President Biden has been clear in his intent to restore U.S. assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people and to take steps to re-open diplomatic missions that were closed by the last U.S. administration. We do not view these steps as a favor to the Palestinian leadership. U.S. assistance benefits millions of ordinary Palestinians.”

Unfortunately, in a non-democratic kleptocracy like the Palestinian Authority, restoring such aid will almost solely benefit P.A. leaders. The leadership has shown little to no interest in reform or ensuring that aid does not reach terrorists, or ceasing its encouragement of terror through incitement.

The least Team Biden could do is make restoration of aid contingent on the Palestinians ceasing payments to terrorists and anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian schools and mosques.

Violent incitement remains a major obstacle in the conflict; Palestinians are daily subjected to a torrent of hate against Israel and the Jewish people, and glorification of murder. Only days ago, the P.A. launched a project to honor all Palestinians who have ‎died as so-called “martyrs” since 1917. The P.A. will eventually plant 35,000 olive trees ‎throughout the areas it controls, each named after a “martyr.” The P.A. defines as martyrs all ‎terrorists killed while attacking Israelis—including suicide bombers and mass murderers.

So, the Biden administration means to return all funding and reopen all diplomatic missions without requiring anything in return. Whatever one might think of steps the Trump administration took against the Palestinians, they provide the new administration powerful leverage. In diplomacy, leverage is everything and should not be wasted—especially on a Palestinian leadership that has dug its heels in for decades, insisting they deserve the world’s sympathy and assistance.

What Mills’s speech most lacks, however, are signs he understands the roots of the conflict, and, above all, has a strategy for ending it that goes beyond the exhausted policies of the past.

Indeed, the issue has never been about a Palestinian state. If it were, any of several Palestinian leaders could have said yes to numerous Israeli and international offers over the years—whether in 1937, 1947, 1967, 2000 or 2008—and today there would be a Palestinian state and no conflict.

Likewise, the problem has never been Israel’s acceptance of a Palestinian state. It has always been a Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state alongside its own. Mills’s platitudes fail to address this reality.

However, if the U.S. goal truly is a Palestinian state, this would require an Israeli withdrawal from territory it now controls. Unfortunately, history shows that when Israel withdraws from territory, as it has done on almost every border, it is met with terror, violence and bloodshed. Mills did not address this inevitability.

Nor did Mills address Palestinian rejection of the Jewish state and of all peace deals to date. Until the Palestinian pattern is broken, the conflict will continue. Clearly, an effort to this end needs to be the focal point of the Biden administration’s strategy over the coming four years.

Finally, while Ambassador Mills mentioned and welcomed the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab nations, this appears to have been an afterthought.

“The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians may not be the major fault line in the Middle East, but its resolution nevertheless would significantly benefit the region as a whole,” Mills stated.

It is unclear how the region would “significantly benefit” from a Palestinian state. This seems to be another anachronistic assumption whose truth has been so hollowed out as to be meaningless in today’s Middle East. Why would the region or the international community benefit from a Palestinian state whose policy is recalcitrant and antagonistic towards its neighbor?

Mills also leaves open the critical question of what will happen to Gaza, run by genocidal jihadists intent on destroying Israel. The complete omission of Hamas from this speech is telling, yet it remains a central issue on the ground.

Secondly, there appears to be a return to “soft linkage,” whereby the Israel-Palestinian conflict is overburdened with the promise of pacifying the region. This is patently false—unsupported by facts on the ground—and turns the current successful paradigm for Israeli-Arab peace on its head. The Abraham Accords should have banished this idea to the dustbin of history.

Ambassador Mills’s comments reflect not only a return to failed, unimaginative diplomacy, they potentially signal a turning back of the clock on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, making the region less stable and peaceful.

The region is safer because the Palestinians can no longer wield a veto on agreements between Israel and the Arab world. Handing this veto back to them will not benefit the region—it will harm it, especially when unity between Israel and pragmatic Sunni nations is creating a bulwark against the nuclear weapons aspirations of Iran.

We can only hope that when Richard Mills is relieved of his role by confirmation of U.N. Ambassador-designate Linda Thomas-Greenfield, greater clarity and realism will guide U.S. foreign policy.

James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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