The Netanyahu Government’s Destructive Actions Are Out of Control. Here’s How the Biden Administration Should Respond.

March 22, 2023

In the face of continued escalatory and provocative actions from the far-right Netanyahu government, the Biden Administration is rightly becoming increasingly alarmed and frustrated.

On Tuesday, the Knesset passed new legislation that rescinded key sections of Israel’s 2005 Disengagement Law, permitting the establishment of Israeli settlements in areas of the occupied West Bank that were evacuated by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. This act directly violated commitments made by Sharon to President George W. Bush, as well as more recent promises made by the Netanyahu government to the Biden Administration, Palestinian officials, Egypt and Jordan.

In addition to sharply condemning this legislation violating those commitments as “particularly provocative,” the Administration responded by summoning Israel’s ambassador to a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. The Deputy Secretary officially conveyed US concern and disappointment and warned against further incendiary action.

This clear and public show of frustration and concern is rare – but in this moment, deeply important and necessary.

At a time when the Netanyahu government continues to press ahead with acts of annexation and deepening occupation, as well as with its anti-democratic assault on Israel’s independent judiciary and the rule of law, the US needs to stand up firmly for shared interests and democratic values. It needs to show unequivocal support for and the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians, for international law, and for the long-term hopes for a peaceful two-state resolution to the conflict.

Sadly, we in the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy movement know that even clear, public disagreement won’t be enough to deter the pro-settlement, ultra-nationalist extremists who now dominate Netanyahu’s government.

That’s why, in the immediate term, J Street is urging the Biden Administration to take the following tangible steps:

  • Expressly revoke the so-called “Pompeo Doctrine” and restore long-held, bipartisan US policy that the settlements in the occupied West Bank are inconsistent with international law;
  • Reinforce US and international differentiation between Israel and the West Bank through steps like restoring the longstanding bipartisan customs guidance on accurate labeling of West Bank goods and ensuring American taxpayer dollars for bilateral research do not fund projects in the settlements; and
  • Make clear that use of US-origin military equipment or aid in connection with acts toward annexation like the establishment of new settlements, evictions, demolitions, forced relocations and the construction of civilian infrastructure designed to benefit settlers could trigger investigations into whether such use constituted a violation of existing US arms export control or aid law.

Again and again, we’ve seen this far-right government break promises and understandings, moving ahead with destructive policies even as violence against Israelis and Palestinians continues to surge and the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. We’ve seen them continue to advance so-called “judicial reform” measures even in the face of a mass Israeli protest movement and warnings of social and economic collapse.

As Senator Chris Van Hollen said to Secretary of State Blinken in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing today, “It seems to me that we look very weak when we continually make statements without any kind of consequence.”

The Senator is absolutely right. Only by establishing clear red lines and potential consequences can the US hope to effectively deter further destructive actions and prevent further violent escalation against Israelis or Palestinians.

We call on the Biden Administration to take the firm action necessary to truly stand up to the Netanyahu government’s far-right agenda. Only with that determined approach can they truly uphold our two countries’ shared values and interests, and help secure Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.

Recent Statements