While millions of Americans take a sigh of relief or celebrate the electoral defeat of Donald Trump, it is critical to recognize the great degree of continuity that exists between US presidential administrations. The transfer of power from Trump to Joe Biden will be no exception. The power of capitalism and imperialism will remain entrenched, and nowhere is this clearer than on US policy with regards to Palestine.
Biden has been an outspoken supporter of Israel for about as long as he has had a political career. At a 2013 conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Biden told an anecdote of how he supported Israel since he was a child – that his father taught him that maintaining Israel as a Jewish state was the only way to prevent another Holocaust. He recalled his father being baffled as to why anyone would oppose the creation of a Jewish state. Perhaps it would have cleared up the confusion if he knew of the massacres of thousands and the displacement of hundreds of thousands that were carried out in 1948 to create the state of Israel.
In 1986, Biden emphatically praised Israel before the Senate while posturing as though he was taking a courageous stance. He called Israel “the best $3 billion dollar investment we make,” before going on to say “were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect our interests in the region.” This comment captures not only Biden’s full-throated support for an apartheid state, but also his unabashed American imperialism.
During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, Biden resisted Bush’s policy of withholding loans from Israel in response to settlement expansion. Biden co-sponsored a 1991 Republican-led bill to continue the loans unconditionally. The bill was not passed, which shows Biden’s willingness to take a hardline anti-Palestinian stance even if he is in the minority.
As Vice President under Barack Obama, Biden continued the bipartisan support for Israeli crimes laid out by previous administrations. Obama took office while the rubble of Israel’s horrific Operation Cast Lead massacre was still smoldering, but even graver Israeli brutality would be carried out during his presidency. In 2014, Israel carried out a massacre called Operation Protective Edge, which killed over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza, more than a quarter of which were children. The United States continued to arm Israel throughout the 7-week atrocity.
The Obama Administration also granted Israel immunity from international law by vetoing almost every UN resolution against settlement expansion, with the only exception being an abstention in December of 2016. But Obama didn’t leave Israel in the cold in his final days in office – quite the contrary. Instead, he gifted Israel a minimum $38 billion military aid deal to be paid over the course of ten years. Top Israeli officials have told the Jerusalem Post that they plan to begin negotiations with Biden in the coming months for the deal’s renewal in 2027. Israeli officials have implied that they will be asking for an increase in military aid: “The new plan will need to account for changing threats and challenges in the Middle East”. Biden is strongly inclined to agree to such an increase, as his record suggests.
All this is not to deny the tremendous harm that the Trump Administration has done to the Palestinian people. Many of Trump’s policies have been departures from longstanding foreign policy, and it is unlikely that Hillary Clinton would have made these same changes. Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli land, even though it is Syrian land which was seized in 1967, during Israel’s six day war of aggression and expansion. Trump also stopped humanitarian aid to Palestinians, closed down a Palestinian diplomatic mission and signed an executive order pressuring universities to take action against pro-Palestinian activists.
Of these major changes in policy, Biden will likely restore the humanitarian aid and the diplomatic mission while leaving everything else just as Trump left it. In fact, he has pledged to keep the embassy in Jerusalem. This continuity is perhaps one reason why Biden has won the favor of the Israel lobby. Whereas the Obama Administration faced harsh criticism from groups like AIPAC, Biden has fostered a friendly relationship with them. Another factor may be Trump’s tendency to alienate neo-conservatives by feigning an anti-war stance. Also, the Israel lobby is worried about the pro-Palestinian turn developing in the Democratic voting base, particularly among younger voters. A staunchly pro-Israel Democratic Administration could serve as a stop gap against losing the Democratic Party in the long run.
Joe Biden’s pick of Kamala Harris for Vice President only helps cement this incoming administration as thoroughly anti-Palestinian. When asked by a New York Times reporter if she thinks Israel meets the international standard for human rights, she waffled about “shared values” before the reporter had to repeat the question. This time she asked him, “what specifically are you referring to?” This interview was conducted in April of 2019, so Israel’s crimes during the Great March of Return – such as sniping medics, journalists and unarmed protesters – were fresh in the public’s consciousness. Yet strangely, she couldn’t seem to recall any human rights contentions surrounding Israel. Finally, she answered, “overall, yes.”
Despite the absurd, and frankly racist assertions by Republicans that Kamala Harris is a leftist radical, she is firmly in the right-wing branch of the Democratic Party. Her stance on Israel is no exception and is in fact exemplary of this. As senator, the first resolution she co-sponsored was one condemning the Obama Administration’s decision to abstain, rather than veto, the UN Security Council resolution against settlement expansion in 2016. Like Biden, she opposes cutting or conditioning military aid to Israel. According to Halie Soifer, a former aide to Harris and head of the Jewish Democratic Council for America, Biden and Harris are “squarely aligned” in their support for Israel and “the only difference between the two is the amount of time Joe Biden has been working on this issue.”
Workers and students in the United States must be vigilant in resisting the Biden Administration from the day they take office. No matter how cathartic it may be to see Trump go down in flames, the changes Trump made to American-Israeli relations will be almost unchanged under Biden. What’s worse is that we will see a continuation of the decades of unrelentingly anti-Palestinian US policies that laid the groundwork for the landgrabs, massacres and apartheid that Israel commits today.