US President’s concern for besieged people rings hollow as fist-bump with Tel Aviv tells where Washington’s heart lies.
“I did say, and I say again, you need not be a Jew to be a Zionist,” US President Joe Biden said during his recent visit to Tel Aviv, driving home the centrality of Israel in American diplomacy in the Middle East.
Two days later, at Bethlehem, Biden appeared to be speaking for the long-suffering Palestinians as he made a case for the “two-nation” theory but acknowledged that an independent state was just a dream at this moment. The hopelessness in his speech was unmistakable.
The irony could not have been lost on the Palestinian people.
But Biden’s statements should not come as a surprise. In fact, he has only extended the same line of thought and action as many of his predecessors. No amount of sugar-coating can hide the fact that as far as the US, Israel, and Palestine go, protecting the interests of the Zionist state will always be a priority for Washington.
The United States, which was the first state to recognise the state of Israel in 1948, took over the protectorate of Israel after the British mandate. Israel’s victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and its political empowerment in the aftermath of the war also changed the American diaspora. The 1967 war pushed much of the American public away from the left-leaning discourse on the Israel-Palestine conflict and towards the far-right, which endorsed Israel's iron-fisted approach toward Palestinians.
With the defeat of Egypt, Israel became more important to the US, even if it meant prolonging the suffering of Palestine, which is now in the 57th year of its existence in shackles and slavery.
Biden embarked on his three-day visit to the Middle East from Israel. Speaking at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport ceremony, Biden mentioned President Richard Nixon's first visit to Israel in 1974, a reference to the age-old ties between Washington and Tel Aviv.
Later, when the US President spoke about his first visit to Israel as a Senator just before the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, his aim was to remind the world that the US would stand by Israel even in the event of military aggression by Tel Aviv.
The Zionist reference by Catholic Biden, the high point of his speech, also showed how similar is his thinking and policy to his immediate predecessor Donald Trump. This is despite Biden’s persistent efforts—and a general perception—to show that he is the opposite of Trump.
Civil religion, the political religion of the US, has always led US presidents to be at Israel’s elbow regardless of their beliefs.
There are Evangelicals—who are called American Christian Zionists—presidents like Harry S. Truman, who proclaimed himself King Cyrus, who had a very clear stance on giving “the promised land” to the Jews. On the other hand, there are also non-Evangelical presidents in American political history. This is exactly why Biden referred to Richard Nixon. Because Nixon (1969-1974), who broke with Orthodox Christianity, was one of the presidents who submitted to Evangelicals’ and Israeli Jews’ demands to avoid drawing adverse reactions. President Clinton and President Obama were in a similar situation, as was Nixon.
Growing out of Puritanism at the founding period of the US, this civil religion has a special bond with Israel. So much so that, for Pilgrims and Puritans alike, the story of “Exodus” from religious oppression in Europe to the “Promised Land” identifies with Israel.
Biden, however, did not refer to Obama, under whom he served as Vice President. This could be because Obama did not visit Israel during his first presidential era, his rhetoric against the West Bank occupation of Israel and his frosty relations with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But despite the cold vibes, there was no significant departure in the Israel policy of the US during Obama’s two terms.
Biden might have insinuated that he would not be as harsh as Obama by avoiding any reference to the first Black US President.
In his speech, Biden also emphasised the “bone deep” connection between the Jewish and American people, even harking back to Biblical times. By deeply sharing the “chosenness” and “manifest destiny”, Israel has always been more than an ally for the US.
All these Puritanical myths are now the secular rules of the American state’s civil religion, and Israel is an important part of this civil religion. For this reason alone, Israel is sometimes called the “51st state of the US”.
In times of war or peace, the US is the constant guardian angel of Israel, regardless of changes in Capitol Hill. . However, there is a hierarchy between Israel and the US. Such a relationship resembles a father-son relationship through an anthropomorphic lens rather than an alliance. The US resembles an “imaginary father figure” who has been patronising Israel for a long time by material and moral self-sacrifice to this son, who is the mirror of the US's own self, and who only warns the child even when he misbehaves.
On the subject of the Holocaust, the father, the US, confessed to the sin of not doing anything to prevent the genocide. Biden employed the narrative of “never again” embedded in Israel's Masada myth about the times of the Holocaust and reminded the US society of its responsibility to Israel.
Then he underlined the ever-deepening bonds between father and son and the military support provided, the US support for the Iron Dome shield and Israel’s new laser-enabled defence system called the Iron Beam. Biden then mentioned he was in favour of supporting Israel's integration into the Middle East.
His speech in the West Bank was not based on such deep bonds, Palestine is like an adopted child for the US. The speech gave the impression that “If Palestine cries, we'll give it some money to stop crying.”
Speech in Bethlehem
Biden later met with Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. He reiterated his commitment to the two-state solution by saying: “The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable, and contiguous”, and highlighted financial aid to Palestine in his speech in the West Bank.
However, Biden was aware that support for the two-state solution is below 50 percent in both Israel and Palestine. And hence the “ground is not ripe” comment. President Biden did not offer any solutions to the conflict. He did not confess the US' sins for the Palestinians who died during the incidents in the aftermath of Sheikh Jarrah protests in May 2021.
Although he appealed to the feelings of the Palestinians in his Bethlehem speech, it was far from promising. Therefore, it cannot be said that the visit is promising for the Israel-Palestine issue because Biden is also aware that he will not be able to lead the US for a long time
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