Four Steps the Biden Administration Must Take To Address the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Jeremy Ben-Ami
on May 14, 2021

With overwhelming sadness and frustration, we find ourselves once again in the midst of a serious escalation in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Children are hiding in shelters, families are grieving and lives are being destroyed.

What started with radical Israeli settler groups seeking to force Palestinian families from their East Jerusalem homes soon escalated to harsh police crackdowns against Palestinian protesters at the Al-Aqsa mosque and rising retaliatory violence between Israelis and Palestinians on the streets. Now, abhorrent indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza, as well as Israel’s massive airstrikes in response, have killed over 100 Palestinians and at least seven Israelis — including, horrifically, dozens of children.

At urgent moments like this, J Street’s role is to outline what the United States can do to restore peace and security, and to chart a better path forward.

The Biden administration has made clear, in words and in actions, that it fully supports Israel’s right to defend its citizens. The tragedy of this situation is that we know the current cycle of retaliation — of rockets and airstrikes — can never provide long-term security for either Israelis or Palestinians. It will only bring more grief and devastation to families in Gaza, prolong the terror and trauma for Israelis, and leave more bloodshed and hatred in its wake.

The United States is not a bystander in this conflict. As a global superpower and Israel’s closest ally, our action or inaction has the capacity to deter violence and injustice, or to deepen and prolong it.

That’s why we’re urgently pressing the Biden administration to engage further, with four concrete steps.

(1) The White House must make addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a priority once again.

While resolution of the conflict may never sit at the very top of the administration’s priority list, a “hands-off approach” is not a policy either. Inattention to the conflict allows tensions to escalate that can then explode into precisely the kind of violence we have witnessed over the past week.

The administration’s top priority now must be to get Israel and Hamas to de-escalate and agree to a ceasefire. We’re also urging the administration to make clear publicly that Israeli efforts to evict and displace Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are unacceptable, as is the use of excessive force against protesters.

If you’ve not yet had the chance, I’d encourage you to read and sign our petition calling for both immediate action, and for a sustained, diplomatic effort to support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to peace, security and self-determination.

(2) The administration should quickly appoint a Special Envoy to direct and coordinate policy related to the conflict.

Beyond a push to stop the fighting immediately, the administration needs a longer-term plan to secure the Israeli and Palestinian people’s rights to peace, justice and self-determination.

The envoy’s mandate should be not to coordinate a return to an earlier status quo, but to actively address the underlying issues that lead to regular outbreaks of violence — that means addressing the unsustainability and injustice of the permanent military occupation of Palestinian territory, and of governing the millions of people who live there without full civil and political rights.

(3) The administration should immediately reverse steps taken by President Trump that have deepened the conflict and damaged America’s ability to be a mediator.

During its first 100 days, the Biden administration reversed some of the damage, but there is much, much more to be done to live up to America’s commitment to justice, peace and human rights.

In particular, in Jerusalem, the US and the international community need to get Israel to stop the ongoing evictions and displacements in East Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods. Radical right-wingers in Israel seeking to establish full Jewish sovereignty over the city and to change the status quo on the Temple Mount are playing with fire. The US must convey to the government of Israel that these actions must stop, and that the potential for two capitals for two states in the city must be maintained and worked towards.

(4) The time has come for a fundamental reset of US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Unfortunately, instead of easing the conflict over time, American policy has contributed to making it ever deeper and never-ending.

The provision of a financial and diplomatic “blank check” by the United States to the state of Israel means that its current government feels little incentive to end occupation, pursue serious diplomacy and find a permanent solution to the conflict that provides Israel with real security and Palestinians with their rights.

While remaining committed to Israel’s security and to the full amount of assistance currently promised to Israel, the US must recognize that by allowing US-sourced military equipment — including equipment bought with US aid — to be used in connection with evictions, demolitions and settlement expansion, it is facilitating the ongoing creeping annexation of Palestinian territory and cementing a permanent undemocratic and unacceptable one-state reality. That must stop.

It has to be noted that the bluff has also been called on the illusion presented by the prior administration with the encouragement of Israel’s right wing that somehow normalizing relations with Gulf States while circumventing the Palestinians can substitute for actual conflict resolution and peace.

It is Israelis and Palestinians who have been fighting for nearly a century now over the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean — not Israelis and Emiratis or the Sudanese. It is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that needs to be addressed, not ignored.

This is a painful and difficult situation — and many parties bear responsibility, from Hamas terrorists to far-right Kahanists to irresponsible politicians stoking tensions and hate. The US can’t wave a magic wand to bring it all to a peaceful end.

But it also can’t walk away.

Our government must do so much more to put real weight behind easily-uttered verbal commitments to peace, human rights and a two-state solution.

Together, we will continue to press the Biden administration and Congress — as well our own communal leadership — to chart a course that ensures that the rights and safety of both Israelis and Palestinians are respected, to move Israel away from the destructive path of permanent occupation and de facto annexation and to support Palestinians who are committed to a nonviolent, diplomatic resolution to the conflict.

If you agree, please take a moment to sign and share our petition to President Biden calling for the US to help broker an immediate ceasefire, and for a commitment to a sustained diplomatic effort to address the drivers of injustice and retaliation at the heart of this conflict.

Tell President Biden: We Need A Ceasefire Now Sign The Petition

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