Israel Humiliates Biden, Announces Further Colonization on Eve of US-Brokered Talks

The far rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel majorly sandbagged Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday, demonstrating once again that it has not the slightest interest in pursuing a just peace with the Palestinian people or in trading a cessation of its colonization of the Palestinian West Bank for a comprehensive peace with the Arab world.

Biden went to the Mideast to kick off negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and reassured the latter of undying US support for them. On Chris Matthews’ Hardball, Biden explained that when you marry someone, you tell them you love them, but that does not remove the obligation to keep saying it years later. Apparently, however, Washington is henpecked by Tel Aviv to the point almost of being a battered spouse. In response to Biden’s loyal support for Israel over decades, the Likud-led government kicked him in the teeth. Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai abruptly announced that he would build 1600 new households (for 8,000 people?) in a part of the Occupied West Bank that the Israeli government had annexed to Jerusalem District. It was precisely such new and increasing Israeli building on Palestinian territory that had led Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reject negotiations and to threaten to resign. The announcement put in doubt whether the negotiations would go forward, and made Biden and the United States government look like fools.

Joe Biden should have turned around and left the country. Instead, he showed up 90 minutes late to a state dinner hosted by Netanyahu and dared actually directly complain about the way he was treated, “I condemn the decision,” he said, calling it “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”

Aljazeera English reports on Biden’s visit and the Israeli announcement of new colonization measures:

The Netanyahu government had announced a settlement freeze in much of the West Bank for 8 months, but does not include the areas it unilaterally annexed to the district of Jerusalem as West Bank territory. Nor is the ‘settlement freeze’ really any such thing, since there are plans to expand housing in existing colonies on the West Bank.

This controversy comes on the heels of demonstrations in al-Khalil/ Hebron and Jerusalem by Palestinians outraged by the unilateral Israeli designation of the Tombs of the Patriarchs and the tomb of Rachel, in Palestinian West Bank territory, as Israeli heritage sites. In Palestinian experience, such Israeli claims often precede Israeli annexation. While US mass media did not cover the demonstrations in any detail (much reporting from Israel in US media is by dual citizens or by reporters who have served or have children serving in the Israeli army), they are a big story in the Middle East, and the creeping Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from East Jerusalem is guaranteed to enrage the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims and result in violence.

The Obama administration came into office determined to restart the negotiations between Abbas and the Israelis, with the aim of achieving a two-state solution. After over a year of meetings and carrying messages and cajoling, the patient-as-Job special envoy George Mitchell finally convinced Mahmoud Abbas to agree to indirect negotiations with Israel. For the past year, Abbas had refused to talk, on the grounds that the Israelis were actively colonizing the West Bank and so taking away the very territory that was subject to negotiation. How do you parlay with someone who is stealing from you at that very moment?

The Oslo process of the 1990s, initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, had aimed at establishing two states side by side, Israel and Palestine. Neither the Likud Party of Netanyahu nor Hamas among the Palestinians wanted to see that process succeed. Likud wanted all of the former British Mandate of Palestine to be permanently under Israeli control, including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which Israel occupied in 1967 and which have a stateless, rights-less Palestinian population of over 4 million persons. The Israelis have steadily and determinedly usurped Palestinian territory throughout the last nearly a century, and by now it is highly unlikely that what is left of the Palestinian West Bank and the besieged, half-starving Gaza Strip can plausibly be cobbled together into a ‘state.’

In my view, it doesn’t really matter if Netanyahu’s slap in the face to Biden derails the proposed indirect talks. The Likud-led government has no intention of allowing a Palestinian state, and there is now no place to put one. Israel-Palestine has unalterably entered the era of Apartheid (actually something worse), and it will spell both the end of dreams of peace in our generation, and probably over time the end of Israel as Netanyahu’s generation knew it. The Palestinians cannot be left stateless (the legal estate of slaves as well as of Jews under Nazi rule, i.e. people with no legal rights) forever. If they can’t have Palestinian citizenship, then they’ll have to have Israeli citizenship. The future of Israel-Palestine is likely to become a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state like Lebanon. Ironically, it is Netanyahu who is in no small measure responsible for this likely outcome, the opposite of the one he aspires to.

Israelis claim a ‘birthright’ to do things like colonize Palestinian territory, based on romantic-nationalist reworkings of biblical narratives. But Canaan was populated for millenia before some Canaanite tribes adopted the new religion of Judaism, and it was also ruled, as Palestine, for centuries by Romans and Greeks, and for 1400 years by Muslims. The Palestinian Jews converted to Christianity and then to Islam, so they are cousins of the European Jews (who appear to have gone to Europe voluntarily as male merchants around 800 CE,, where they took local wives). European Jews are about half European by parentage and all European by cultural heritage, and it is no more natural that they be in geographical Palestine than that they be in Europe (where nearly two-thirds of their mothers were from and about a third of their fathers). From a Middle Eastern point of view, European Jews planted in British Mandate Palestine by the British Empire were no different from the million colons or European colonists brought to Algeria while it was under French rule from 1830-1962. (Algeria had been ruled in antiquity by Rome, and the French considered themselves heirs of the Roman Empire, so it was natural that people from Marseilles should return to ‘their’ territory. Romantic nationalism, whether French or Zionist, always has the same shape). I don’t predict the same fate for Jewish Israelis as befell the French colons. Rather, I think they are likely to more and more resemble in their position the Maronite Catholics of Lebanon– i.e. powerful and formerly dominant population-wise, but increasingly challenged by other rising communities.

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21 Responses

  1. When Israel agrees to discuss peace, they know this gives them more time to build settlements. It is a joke. I wish the world would wake up and catch on.

    Israel will never agree to a 2 state solution as then they could not steal any more land. The peace talks are a stalling and diversion technique, nothing more.

  2. Re modern territorial claims rooted in (literally) ancient history: I note with interest assertions made by Mussolini's government that Italian colonists (100,000 of them by 1939) were "returning" to Libya in the 1920s and 30s, since Libya had once been part of the Roman Empire. Combine this with colonial French assertions of "return" to Algeria and Zionist assertions of a "return" to the Land of Israel, we see a pattern that nowhere produced happy outcomes. Nor were they enduring in the Algerian and Libyan cases.

  3. I agree with your last statement. Israel, as it is known today, will probably cease to exist and the entire Palisrael (or whatever name) will become a multi-cultural civic society.
    Also possible is conversion of large numbers of both Jews and Moslems to the Baha'i Faith which has its world centre in Haifa.

  4. With regard to your comment that (certain powerful) "Israelis claim a 'birthright' to do things like colonize Palestinian territory," let me suggest two important books which I think you know about:

    Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People published by Verso in 2009.

    Gilbert Achcar's Les Arabes et la Shoah published by Sinbad (Actes Sud) in France, 2009. I have been told that this last book will have an English language version published by Metropolitan next month.

    These two books are a gold mine of information, very well researched and written by eminent historians.

  5. This is the clearest demonstration yet of the US relationship to Israel. We tell ourselves we are supporting the defense of Israel, they rub it in our faces that they are not on the defense – they are on the attack.

    Cut their subsidy 10% every three months until they stop building.

  6. It's instructive how Israel chose its moment to make a point. Not unlike when they made that Turk sit on the low coach, explicitly to symbolize who was boss. They came right out and said so!

    Funny to remember when B.Clinton got all bent out of shape with Israel late in his presidency, complaining of how he was "doing your bidding like a Wooden Indian" Well, it was good he got that off his chest so he could get busy setting up the Palestinians (as instructed) for the PR hatchet job that followed at Camp David II.

    Biden can complain, but he'll get over it. This is all a matter of employee management in the Israeli view, and not incorrectly. Check back in 2 weeks and Obama, Biden and Clinton will have gotten over it. They're bought and paid for.

  7. If Israel can build with impunity, then it seems plainly unjust or just erratic to insist that there is some 'legal framework' that allows them to close Orient House forever.

  8. Why limit the b*tch slap to Israel? It seems that the Obama administration can join the (lamentably) late Rodney Dangerfield in plausibly wailing, "I can't get no respect around here!"

    If Bush '41 was able to get Oslo, his skill in assembling the Gulf War coalition and winning that conflict likely had something to do with it. Indeed, American credibility made Jim Baker's threats to cut Israel off from US aid all the more credible–and Jerusalem did take his threats seriously with excellent reason.

    But this administration, with its perpetually renewable deadlines for Iran's nuclear program, the public b*tch slap administered by China, the twin failures at Copenhagen and his botched first year trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, doesn't exactly bestride the globe like an awe-inspiring colossus.

    In the meantime, he successfully battles Fox News to a draw. Oh, yeah, he completely eliminated the threat to our security from Honduras.

    What does it cost Israel to snub this administration? What did it cost China? Iran? North Korea?

    So far, all Jerusalem has had to endure is a shorter visit by Joe Biden.

    I think they can live with that.

  9. Another possibility is that Israeli Jews will try (are trying) to solve the demographic problem by slaughtering (more) Palestinians. Of course this promises to stoke the flames of Muslim anger, and as weapons technologies improve, result in the future annihilation of Israel itself.

    To the commenter who anticipates that they will all convert to the Baha'i religion–well good God, why not Raelianism? (smiley) The Baha'is are inconsequential, and probably shrinking in numbers just like the Maronites. They'll be luck to get through all this with their compound unbombed.

    As for whether Christians, Muslims, and Jews will gravitate to ever-more strident forms of those religions, or to some sort of humanistic blend of European and Middle Eastern cultures, this seems very much in the air right now. (Possibly both at once?)

  10. Folks,
    Don't feel too bad: Bibi just showed Joe who the real boss is.

    16 years of peace making and no change for the Palestinians. It will be the same 16 years from now.

  11. Anonymous,

    Very pointed summary of the Obama first year in foreign policy!

    I would just like to point out Israelis should not celebrate their success in humiliating their superpower patron. Reputation is important to superpowers. No empire can invade everyone. Most work gets done on reputation. Demean the superpower and you weaken the superpower.

    What does that mean for Israel? When a client undermines its patron to the point of weakening the patron, that weakens the security of the client.

    Another outcome is also possible. Step on the eagle's wing often enough and Washington might just do to Israel what Gorbachev did to Honecker…just walk away.

  12. tdraicer:

    I'm no fan of Likud, Bibi, or Israeli policy. Otoh, this post ignores a great deal. While it is understandable that the Arabs view Israel as an example of European colonialism, that is no excuse for the rest of us to ignore the unique history that led to Israel's creation. Basically the Zionists were right-to a degree even they could hardly have imagined-that the attempt at assimilation in Europe had failed. Unfortunately Palestine was the only option for a Jewish state available (only in novels were the Jews offered Alaska). And of course Palestinians weren't the only Middle East refugees-one reason Israel turned to Likud in the first place is the hundreds of thousands of Jews driven from Arab lands who understandably brought a distrust of the Arabs with them. (Oddly there is never talk of their Right of Return.)

    As for the Palestinians, their current unhappy state is the responsbility of Israel, but not only Israel. Their fellow Arabs and their own leaders have continuously treated them appallingly as well.

    It should also be noted that if Israel had been defeated in 1948, besides a great many more dead Jews, Palestine would have been carved up by its Arab neighbors, who the record suggests would have been far more bloody in putting down Palestinian nationalism. When the Palestinians get their own state, it will ironically be because of the creation of Israel.

    Finally, there is virtually no chance Israel's Jews will settle for being a minority in a single state. Which is why the two-state solution may be repeatedly delayed, but it ultimately remains the only option. (Well, apart from a bloodbath that takes down Israelis and Palestinians alike.) And any encouragement to the Palestinians to believe otherwise, can only delay a settlement.

  13. Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak recently spoke on security challenges, linked below. In it he gives a convincing analysis of why the occupation is not democratic, and one Jordan-Med state (if it were even possible) also returns to 'not jewish', as was the condition after '67 and before massive Russian immigration during the 80's. So faced with those choices, not Jewish and not democratic, he posits the two state solution is a no brainer, and Likud's acceptance of 2-state as a watershed.

    The problem with the Barak analysis is that the conservatives and ultra-zionists haven't needed a majority to rule for the past decade, nor do they accept Arab tenancy in Palestine.

    link to

  14. Maybe the overarching explanation for Israel's behavior is that it is not only a nuclear power, but the only nuclear power in its operational sphere. Why not be arrogant, aggressive, and unyielding if you have the wherewithal to destroy any conceivable enemy, without enduring any significant damage to the home-front?

    Maybe someday the US will take an objective look at the tiny nation we've nurtured and cultivated, and swear undying allegiance to any time given the podium. Do we share any values, other than the right to vote? Do we admire a nation that does nothing to get along with its neighbors, other than military intimidation? Do we think that its all right that a very militarily aggressive and domineering country has a nuclear arsenal? Do we admire sectarian states? Does it matter that this recipient of so much of our favor and treasure is nothing more than an oblivious ingrate?

    I mean, what's to like?

  15. If Israel doesn't amputate the diseased limb of its settlements, it will infect and destroy the entire body.

  16. If you want to understand why Likud is so confident that it will maintain an apartheid state in the future, look at this story at, a site that investigates American Christian extremism:

    link to

    This is the start of a 3-part series on activities of American theocrats like John Hagee to lay a groundwork in Israeli law for American Protestant extremists to become citizens and thus settlers in the front lines of their beloved Armageddon. They are already financing facilities in the illegal settlements.

    This sounds ridiculous, if you believe that Likud has any loyalty to the Hebrew faith at all. But, no, they're politicians. They already let in Russians who pretend to be Jews to shore up the white demographic. Evigdor Lieberman is one of them and he's not religious, yet there is no greater champion of a final solution to the Palestinian problem.

    Likud wants to let in our crazies too. That binds Israel to the wingnut GOP as if it were a 51st state. Imagine how Fox News will cover it when a Tennessee settler is killed by a bomb on the West Bank. All this in a time when our theocrats are actively encouraging secession talk, and exploiting white fears of losing their majority in America.

    The goal of the theocrats is to weld the US and Israel into one country so as to write the US into the Book of Revelation. They may want it to be a white minority dictatorship, oppressing non-whites here and Arabs over there via a permanent state of war, or they may try to re-create a C.S.A. that can only overcome its poverty by finishing the neocon project in the Middle East.

    The Likud just wants to populate Israel with anyone who will vote for them.

  17. Assuming a 2-state solution is not completely lost, or perhaps even if it is, what do you think of making Jerusalem a separate district, sort of like DC, that is administered by the UN? Designating it a "holy" site for whatever religions want it, and making it secure (maybe as the capital, like DC) and keeping the holy sites accessible. How crazy is that?

  18. There are several paths that the US can take to respond to growing Israeli arrogance. Using the massive American financial support is one, but there is also the choice of softening up the American stand regarding Gaza and supporting an end to its blockade. In addition to the humanitarian mandate the US and the civil world have to ease the suffering of Palestinians trapped in Gaza, such a move will send a message to Israel that we will not support your policies unconditionally. The settlement issue is only one on a list of misguided Israeli policies in the occupied territories.

  19. I think a fact you need to emphasize, Professor Cole, is the original Jewish/Palestinian partition map, as you show in one of the panels of the illustration in this post. Few in this country realize the actual lines of the original partition, and believe the "1949-67" map as the original, UN-agreed borders. This is an important difference: in the original partition, both Israelis and Palestinians had access to the sea and one interconnected piece of territory. Notably, also, Jerusalem was an international city–the only status today that could possibly help bring regional peace. I know it's not a "breaking" story, but IS a bit of misinformation widely believed in the US.

  20. I am really amazed on how you can write such a honest opinion and not hounded by Israeli lobby. Professor Cole you are brave,indeed.

    The writing is clear on the wall but we do not have to courage to read it or acknowledge it. We are paying by American blood for Israeli arrogance and injustice. Why are we still funding these idiots? Why have we not withdrawn our ambassador?

    Israel is increasingly isolated. They are in a similar situation like South Africa when apartheid was going on. Sooner or later Israel will just be by itself and no love from the rest of the world. It is time to tell them, enough is enough. It is not difficult for anyone who have any sense of right or wrong to figure out what Israel is doing is morally, legally and politically wrong. Israel go ahead and build that concrete barrier real high, you are going to need it because no one outside it want to be in touch with you or even want to know what is going on inside.

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