Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The actually existing Middle East is not cooperating with the Washington representation of it. To hear Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak, you would think that a two-state solution to the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinians is still possible. It is not. You would think there was a “peace process.” There is not. You would think that only Palestinians commit terrorism, not extremist Israeli gangs assiduously stealing Palestinian property while assaulting their families and homes. You would think that other Arab countries are eager to join the “Abraham Accords,” which were acceded to by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. They are not. You would think that Iran is a major threat to Israel. Despite the harsh words Tehran and Tel Aviv have for one another, and despite some shadowy Israeli covert operations inside Iran, the two countries are far apart and do not actually interact much. Iran is mainly a boogeymen, a distraction talked up by the Israeli Right to take the focus off their brutal and kleptomaniac occupation of the Palestinians.
The sordid reality facing Blinken on his Middle East tour is of Egyptian dictatorship, Israeli defection from the ranks of the democracies, Palestinian helplessness, and Iranian weakness. Blinken’s task as the chief American diplomat is to smooth troubled waters. He cannot.
The paradox of America’s superpower status in the Middle East is that it is meaningless. Egypt’s ruling elite knows that Washington would prefer them to be less brutal and more democratic. They won’t be, and they don’t care what Washington thinks. Blinken is forced to shake hands with the repressive dictator and to praise Cairo as a key security partner. Ten percent of the world’s petroleum flows through the Suez Canal, and 12% of global trade. Egypt is not an ally to the US but a gas pump. Its veiled military junta is, from the American point of view, free to crush dissent, as long as it maintains the peace treaty with Israel. Israel and oil. Oil and Israel.
After meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Blinken spoke of his condolences for the innocent Israelis killed in the Neve Yakob squatter-settlement in Palestinian East Jerusalem, and of course any decent person joins him in deeply regretting civilian, noncombatant lives snuffed out. But Blinken did not deplore the loss of innocent life attendant on the Israeli military raid into the Jenin refugee camp, a raid that was said to have been about three terrorists in Jenin but which left 10 people dead, including two teenagers and a grandmother.
- “Now, one of the most effective ways to make Israel more secure is to continue to build bridges in the region and even well beyond the region. That’s why we’ve worked relentlessly to deepen and broaden the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states. Earlier this month, a large delegation from across the United States Government joined representatives from Israel, from Bahrain, from Egypt, from Morocco, from the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi for the first meeting of the Negev Forum Working Groups. This was the largest gathering of Israel and Arab officials since the 1991 Madrid Conference.”
Blinken’s buying into the idea that it matters to the Israel-Palestinian issue what tiny Gulf principalities like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates do is bizarre. The UAE was not in a military conflict with Israel.
As for the evocation of Madrid, that was actually about practical steps toward a two-state solution. The Abraham Accords are an arms deal among the wealthy in the Middle East that involves throwing the Palestinians under the bus.
Blinken bought into the myth that the US can “improve the daily lives of the Palestinians” economically while they wait for emancipation. But the Israeli Occupation has cost the Palestinians billions of dollars and they are not in fact getting better off. Moreover, stateless people don’t have stable property because it is the state that guarantees property. They are being relentlessly stolen from by the Israelis. The notion that they will be happy to be well-fed prisoners of the Israeli jackboot is ridiculous and is refuted every day by the news from the Palestinian West Bank.
Blinken tried to threaten Netanyahu politely, saying “We continue to believe that the best way to achieve it is through preserving and then realizing the vision of two states. As I said to the prime minister, anything that moves us away from that vision is, in our judgment, detrimental to Israel’s long-term security and its long-term identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Netanyahu must have been suppressing a belly laugh. He has spent his political career destroying the Oslo Peace accords and any chance for a Palestinian state, and whatever you think of him, he has succeeded spectacularly. Netanyahu is not afraid of a one-state solution that ‘dilutes’ a ‘Jewish and democratic’ identity. He does not anyway give a fig for democracy. He knows that Apartheid techniques can allow the Israelis to annex of the Palestinians’ land while keeping them in an enslaved-like condition of statelessness and powerlessness. Netanyahu has been at this for 25 years and has never been slapped down. He has the Adelsons’ billions behind him, and other vast US fortunes behind him, from the kind of people who make and break administrations like Biden’s.
Blinken continued, “We also remain committed to supporting religious coexistence and diversity, including in Jerusalem. We continue to support upholding the historic status quo at Jerusalem’s holy places, including the Temple Mount Haram al-Sharif. We’re grateful to the prime minister for his repeated expressions of support for that position.”
But Netanyahu has brought into his government persons determined to destroy the Status Quo on the holy places in Jerusalem. People who have repeatedly stormed the sacred al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site for 1.8 billion Muslims.
Behind the scenes, the State Department and the Biden administration have been at pains to try to convince Netanyahu not to follow through on his threat to neuter the Israeli courts and take the country toward ‘illiberal democracy’ even for Jewish Israelis. Israel has never been truly democratic when it comes to Palestinian-Israelis or Palestinians. Now the repressive techniques used against the Palestinians are increasingly aimed at opposition parties inside Israel.
Blinken had to spend a lot more time behind the scenes arguing for Montesquieu’s separation of powers than he had anticipated.
Most of what Blinken said was boiler plate. But those American mantras like ‘peace process’ and ‘two-state solution’ and ‘Jewish and democratic’ abruptly stop working if the Israeli cabinet is full of people who vehemently reject all of those things and who shout their rejection out loud, drowning out pour Antony Blinken’s platitudes