Thursday, Apr 11, 2024

Biden Rolls Back Trump’s Recognition of Israel’s West Bank Rights

 

 

In response to the announcement by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the approval of plans to build 3,000 new homes in the West Bank Jewish communities of Ma’ale Adumim, Efrat, and Kedar, the Biden administration announced the cancellation of the so-called “Pompeo Doctrine” in which the Trump administration, in 2019, formally recognized Israel’s right to build more Jewish homes in the West Bank and East Yerushalayim.

At that time, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reversed the Obama-Biden administration policy by declaring that, “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” since sovereignty over those areas has never been clearly established by a binding international agreement. Pompeo also said that the Trump administration would no longer refer to Israeli “settlements” as inherently illegal, and that “the legal conclusions relating to individual settlements must depend on an assessment of specific facts and circumstances on the ground.”

Smotrich said that approving new West Bank housing was the “appropriate Zionist response” to a fatal Palestinian terror attack on Route 1 last week, in which three Palestinian terrorists opened fired on Israeli cars stuck in a traffic jam on Route 1 between Yerushalayim and Ma’ale Adumim, killing Matan Elmaleh, Hy”d, 26, and wounding 11 others. They were the latest casualties due to a major expansion of terrorist attacks in the West Bank since October 7, which have killed, to date, 13 Jews, including four Israeli soldiers, and injured 86 others.

The controversial right-wing leader of the NRP-Religious Zionism party said that, with the concurrence of Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, he will convene the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administrations Higher Planning Council for the West Bank, for the purpose of approving the new construction. The council last met in June, when it approved a record 12,349 new West Bank homes. It will now be asked to authorize 2,350 new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim (current population 38,000), 694 units in Efrat (current population 11,800) and 300 units in the Ma’ale Adumim suburb of Kedar (current population 1,600).

He then declared, “May every terrorist planning to harm us know that lifting a finger against Israeli citizens will be met with a death blow and destruction, in addition to the deepening of our eternal grip on all of Eretz Yisroel.”

BLINKEN DEMANDS A HALT TO NEW WEST BANK CONSTRUCTION

Smotrich was reacting to a statement to reporters by Secretary of State Antony Blinken while visiting Buenos Aires in Argentina, who said “We’ve seen the reports and I have to say we’re disappointed in the announcement” of the imminent approval of the 3,000 new Jewish housing units on the West Bank and added that such construction is “counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace.”

Ignoring the existence of the Pompeo doctrine, Blinken also stated, “It’s been long-standing U.S. policy, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace. They’re also inconsistent with international law. Our administration maintains a firm opposition to settlement expansion, and in our judgment, this only weakens — it doesn’t strengthen — Israel’s security.”

Blinken also repeated the Biden administration’s demand that Israel’s postwar plan for the governance of Gaza must adhere to “certain basic principles that we set out many months ago, that we feel are very important when it comes to Gaza’s future.” They are that Gaza should not be a base for terrorism; the Israeli government should not reoccupy Gaza; and the size of Gaza’s territory should not be reduced.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Blinken’s statement amounted to a return to the pre-Trump U.S. policy against the construction of any new Jewish housing units in the West Bank and East Yerushalayim. “This isn’t about the previous administration,” Kirby claimed. “We are simply reaffirming the fundamental conclusion that these settlements are inconsistent with international law. That is a position that’s been consistent over a range of Republican and Democratic administrations. If there’s an administration that [has been] inconsistent, it was the previous one,” Kirby added.

Last week’s statements were the first time the Biden administration had openly labeled the Israeli settlements as illegal. They also coincided with hearings being conducted by the International Court of Justice in the Hague into complaints by countries such as South Africa claiming that Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank is illegal.

HISTORY OF THE U.S.-ISRAELI WEST BANK DISPUTE

The first time the State Department issued a legal opinion declaring Israeli settlements to be “inconsistent with international law” was during the Jimmy Carter administration in 1978. At that time, State Department legal adviser Herbert Hansell wrote that “territory coming under the control of a belligerent occupant does not thereby become its sovereign territory.”

Back then, there were only 75 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. In 2005, Israel voluntarily evacuated all 21 of the Jewish settlements in Gaza, but Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank have continued today. As a result, today there are 146 legally recognized settlements in the West Bank, with a total Jewish population of more than 500,000, plus an additional 200,000 Jews living in sections of East Yerushalayim beyond the Green Line which represents Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

In addition to the Pompeo doctrine recognizing the legitimacy of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Trump administration endorsed a peace proposal that would have permitted Israel to annex up to 30 percent of the West Bank.

Former Secretary of State Pompeo reacted by condemning the Biden administration for attacking the announced Israeli intention to build more housing in the West Bank by declaring that, “Judea and Samaria are rightful parts of the Jewish homeland, and Israelis have a right to live there. President Biden’s decision to overturn our policy and call Israeli ‘settlements’ illegal will not further the cause of peace. It rewards Hamas for its brutal attacks on October 7 and punishes Israel instead. These Israeli communities are not standing in the way of peace; militant Palestinian terrorism is,” Pompeo observed.

BIDEN’S OTHER RECENT MOVES AGAINST ISRAEL

Biden administration officials said that the reversal of the Pompeo doctrine was one of a series of moves they are taking against Smotrich and the pro-settlement advocates he represents, including an unprecedented move by Biden in which he issued executive orders denying visas to four named Jews living on the West Bank and applying financial sanctions against them for allegedly using violence against Palestinians there.

The Biden administration also issued a national security memorandum that was clearly aimed at Israel. It warned that all recipients of U.S.-made weapons need to comply with U.S. and international law concerning their use against civilians. This move was made in the context of public statements by pro-Palestinian Democrats in the House and Senate calling for restrictions on further U.S. arms sales to Israel as long as it continues its war against Hamas in Gaza.

House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson also spoke out over the weekend in defense of the Pompeo doctrine. In a tweet, Johnson stated, “The Jewish people have a historic and legal right to live in the land of Israel including in Judea and Samaria — the biblical heartland. It is an absolute disgrace the Biden administration would issue this decision, especially as Israel fights terrorists on multiple fronts that seek Israel’s destruction and as more than 130 hostages remain in Gaza.

“The Biden administration must stop undermining Israel and facilitating efforts to delegitimize Israel. It is misguided and unconscionable,” the Speaker added.

FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL DAVID FRIEDMAN SPEAKS OUT

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel during the Trump administration, David Friedman wrote on X, “Blinken is 100% wrong. I researched this for over a year with many State Department lawyers. There is nothing illegal about Jews living in their biblical homeland. Indeed, Undersecretary of State Eugene Rostow, also the dean of the Yale Law School (who negotiated U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 after the Six Day War), stated that Israel has the best legal claim to Judea and Samaria.”

“For Blinken to announce this in the middle of a war and when the Jewish Sabbath already has begun in Israel is unconscionable,” Friedman added.

House Speaker Johnson shared Friedman’s comments in his message, and then added, “Ambassador David Friedman is absolutely correct. This is a shameful decision.”

Republican Senator Bill Hagerty of Tennessee also shared Ambassador Friedman’s post, writing that, “Ambassador Friedman is correct. The Biden administration’s disgraceful reversal undermines a close friend while rewarding the genocidal terrorists they are fighting. It is not a legal assessment. It is a political calculation meant to appease the pro-Hamas radical left. Shameful.”

Several other Republican members of the Senate and House also came out in opposition to the Biden administration policy and in defense of Israel’s right to build more Jewish housing in the West Bank.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said that the Trump administration policy “simply recognized reality: Judea and Samaria are the homeland of the Jewish people. It’s shameful that the Biden administration reversed this and rewarded terrorists — all to help Biden’s poll numbers in Michigan,” which is a crucial battleground state whose Muslim voters have threatened to turn against Biden in November’s presidential election over his support for Israel’s right to pursue the war against Hamas in response to its October 7 attack.

Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee also slammed the Biden White House move as “a slap in the face to Israel, our greatest friend and ally in the Middle East,” as did Congressman Carlos Jimenez of Florida, who tweeted, “Judea and Samaria is Israel. Period.”

Shlomo Ne’eman, who heads the West Bank settler Yesha Council and the Gush Etzion Regional Council, praised Smotrich’s announcement and asked the Israeli government to approve additional new Jewish housing construction beyond the 3,000 units that Smotrich was talking about.

“The development of Judea and Samaria is the appropriate response to anyone who tries to harm us or undermine our rights to the land. We hope that the rest of the housing units awaiting approval will be green-lighted as soon as possible,” Ne’eman said.

“There is no need to wait for another deadly attack. Our enemies should know that we do not cower from acts of terrorism. We must continue to develop and establish our hold on all parts of Eretz Yisroel,” he added.

BIDEN’S COMMITMENT TO THE FAILED TWO-STATE SOLUTION

During his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden announced that his Middle East policy would be based upon a commitment to reviving and implementing the long obsolete vision for a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian policy while abandoning the successful Trump administration approach, which resulted in the signing of the Abraham Accords establishing peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. The Trump administration also formerly recognized Yerushalayim as Israel’s capitol by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to a pre-existing U.S. consulate in West Jerusalem and it recognized Israel’s annexation of the section of the Golan Heights which it took from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War.

During his first visit to Israel as secretary of state in May 2021, Blinken said the Biden administration opposed “any steps” — including new settlements — that risked “sparking violence” or undermined “the prospect for returning to the pursuit of two states.” Taking that statement into account, much of the new West Bank construction undertaken and proposed by the Israeli government since then has been limited to the expansion of existing communities, including the new construction that Smotrich has just announced.

In February of 2023, a joint statement was issued by the United States, Palestinian, Israeli, Egyptian, and Jordanian officials following a peace summit held in the Jordanian city of Aqaba which claimed that Israel had agreed to “stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months.” However, immediately after that statement was issued, minister Smotrich declared that “there won’t be a freeze on [West Bank] construction and development, not even for one day.”

The current U.S. campaign against any new West Bank construction is part of a larger effort by the Biden administration to pressure Israel to agree to the immediate creation of a Palestinian state when the war in Gaza ends, based on President Biden’s claim last week that “The overwhelming majority of Palestinians are not Hamas.”

BIDEN CITES FALSE FACTS ABOUT BIDEN

Biden then declared, “I won’t mince words. The overwhelming majority of Palestinians are not Hamas. And Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. They’re also suffering as a result of Hamas’ terrorism. We need to be clear-eyed about that reality.”

But according to the findings of a November opinion poll conducted by the Arab World for Research and Development, it is Biden who does not grasp the reality, because 75% of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza supported the October 7 Hamas attack.

Taken separately, 83.1% of Palestinians in the West Bank expressed their support for the October 7 attack to varying degrees, while only 6.9% were strongly or somewhat opposed, and 8.4% had no opinion. In Gaza, a somewhat smaller majority of 63.6% backed the Hamas attack, either strongly or to some extent, while the opposition was slightly higher at 20.9%, and another 14.4% of those surveyed were neutral.

The same Palestinian poll found that 35% of Palestinians surveyed said that the primary motive behind the October 7 attack was to stop the wholly mythical Israeli violations of the al Aqsa mosque, followed by the need to “free Palestine,” and to “break the siege on Gaza.”

Another interesting finding in the same poll was that 63.6% viewed the war in Gaza as between Israel and the Palestinian people as a whole, while only 18.6% agreed with Biden that the war in Gaza was only between Israel and Hamas.

Meanwhile, just 17.2% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza support the Biden-backed two-state solution, compared to 74.7% who favor a single Palestinian state “from the river to the sea,” requiring the elimination of Israel. Finally, only 5.4% of surveyed Palestinians said they believe that they can live together with Israelis in a “one-state for two peoples.”

Similarly, a New York Times article has conceded that the traumatic impact of the October 7 attack has convinced more Israelis, not only to oppose the creation of an independent Palestinian state but also to support the further expansion of Jewish communities in the West Bank, because of the more widespread consensus among Israelis that a two-state solution is not feasible.

TWO-STATE SOLUTION ADVOCATES STUCK IN DENIAL

However, the alumni of the Clinton and Obama-era American foreign policy establishment who still influence Biden’s policies towards Israel, such as former U.S. ambassador to Israel and special U.S. envoy to the Middle East Martin Indyk, are still doing their best to resurrect, once again, the failed two-state solution, and try to force it upon Israel.

In a long essay published in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Indyk presents his version of the history of the two-state solution, which “dates back to at least 1937, when a British [Peel] commission suggested a partition of the British mandate territory then known as Palestine into two states. Ten years later, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 181, which proposed two states for two peoples: one Arab, one Jewish. Although the resolution’s recommended territorial partition left neither side satisfied, the Jews accepted it — but the Palestinians, encouraged by their Arab state sponsors, rejected it,” launching Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

Indyk concedes that after decades of failed U.S. attempts to implement the two-state solution, “the Israelis and the Palestinians are angrier and more fearful [today] than at any time since the outbreak of the second intifada in October 2000,” which started soon after Yasser Arafat walked away from the first serious proposal for a two-state solution offered by U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David. Indyk admits that “the two sides seem less likely than ever to achieve the mutual trust that a two-state solution would require.”

Indyk also notes the failure of “the ‘conflict management’ approach pursued for the last decade or so by Netanyahu, which aimed to maintain the status quo [in Gaza] indefinitely — and the world has seen how that worked out” by creating the conditions which made possible the Hamas attack on October 7.

In his essay, Indyk preferred to place the blame for the repeated failure to reach a two-state solution equally on the Palestinians and the Israelis. He wrote, “The Israelis became frustrated by the Palestinian leadership’s unwillingness to respond to what they regarded as generous offers for Palestinian statehood, and the Palestinians never believed that the offers were genuine or that Israel would deliver if they dared compromise on their claims.”

Indyk still refuses to recognize that the real reason for the failure of the two-state solution is the inherent flaws in the concept itself, choosing to blame Netanyahu for “persuad[ing] the Israelis that they had no Palestinian partner for peace” and ignoring the fact that Netanyahu and the Trump administration had come up with a viable regionwide alternative approach in the Abraham Accords, and which the Biden administration has failed to pursue.

INDYK’S SOLUTION IS FOR BIDEN TO UNDERMINE NETANYAHU

Indyk’s recommendation for forcing a premature end to the war in Gaza and a revival of the two-state solution is for President Biden to threaten to withhold continued U.S. resupply of the Israeli military while going over Netanyahu’s head by appealing directly to the Israeli people, in support of Netanyahu’s domestic Israeli political opponents. And, if all else fails, Indyk suggests that a two-state solution could be forced upon both Israel and the Palestinians, rather than face the alternative of continuing their conflict indefinitely, by unanimous passage of a new U.N. Security Council resolution to replace the post-Six Day War-era Resolution 242, but nobody should hold their breath.

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman has also urged the Biden administration to “give up all the fantasies” concerning the two-state solution. He called the notion of a Palestinian state side-by-side with the Jewish one “the mother’s milk of the Democratic party, and to an extent, the Republicans,” especially after Hamas’ October 7 terror attack on Israel.

The New York Times article also notes that since Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition came to power after winning the 2022 Knesset election, the settler movement has gained more government support from Smotrich and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir. They have also begun to advocate for the re-establishment of settlements in Gaza from which Israel voluntarily withdrew in 2005.

The Biden administration’s anti-settlement rhetoric was welcomed by Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the left-wing J Street Jewish-American advocacy group, who said, “Now, the administration must make clear that, particularly in light of the volatility of the current situation between Israelis and Palestinians, there must be no further expansion of the settlement enterprise, [and show that it] will take further steps to enforce its view — and the view of the international community — that the creeping annexation of the West Bank must stop.”

U.S. STILL TRYING TO BLOCK AN ISRAELI ATTACK ON RAFAH

The Biden administration has also expressed its doubts about Netanyahu’s claim that the Israeli military has developed a viable plan to move the estimated 1 million displaced Palestinians now living in the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah out of harm’s way before the Israelis launch their attack on the last strongholds of Hamas there.

Netanyahu and all of Israel’s military leaders continue to insist that, despite U.S. objections, the existential threat to Israel from Hamas cannot be eliminated unless the last organized Hamas forces in Rafah are attacked and destroyed. Israeli leaders have also rejected as unacceptable the suggestion that the remnants of Hamas should be included in a reconstituted Palestinian Authority that would be entrusted to assume security responsibility for Gaza after the fighting there is ended.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesman of the IDF, wrote that after the October 7 attack, “when the fighting shifted to Gaza, Hamas went from massacring Israeli civilians to hiding behind Gazan civilians. . .

“Hamas has forced Gazans to stay in active combat zones by blocking their attempts to move out of harm’s way. When civilians manage to reach the safer areas to which we guide them, Hamas then moves to those areas, turning humanitarian zones into staging areas for further attacks. . .

“The Israel Defense Forces, by contrast, conducts its operations with caution, transparency and in accordance with international law. . . Our war is against Hamas, not against the people of Gaza, which is why we take extensive measures to minimize harm to the civilians Hamas puts in the crossfire. We are fighting this war with a heavy heart, aware of the tragic loss of civilian lives on both sides.

“Our mission is to dismantle Hamas and bring our hostages home — not to destroy Gaza or displace its people. . . Our strategy remains consistent and clear: Ensure that October 7 never happens again. We will continue fulfilling this mission while upholding our values and exposing the true face of Hamas to the world.”

COMPARING THE WARS IN GAZA AND UKRAINE

An editorial in the British Telegraph newspaper compared the loss of support for Ukraine, as “a fledgling democracy [that] is fighting for its survival against a revanchist Russia with sinister designs on its neighbors” to Israel, which “is responding to terrorist atrocities by attempting to stamp out the organization responsible. . .

“Degrading the military capacity of the Kremlin and eliminating Hamas are both self-evidently desirable from the vantage point of the West. Yet in each conflict, the democratic world is increasingly unsure of its involvement. . .

“In the case of Israel, the West. . . is rapidly losing the moral courage to stand for what is right. In the days after October 7, it was widely accepted that, in order to prevent such an evil from occurring again, Hamas had to be utterly defeated. Yet before the Israelis had even embarked on ground operations [in Gaza], the criticism and hand-wringing had already begun.

“The same disgusting tendency which casts Western countries as innately and uniquely evil turned its sights upon Israel, denying that it had any right to defend itself, or to rescue the hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza. . .

“President Biden’s support for Jerusalem is beginning to look decidedly shaky, while in the U.K. Lord Cameron seems to have swallowed entirely the Foreign Office’s disgraceful anti-Israel bias.

“It is disturbing just how quickly the actual cause of this conflict — the pogrom of October 7 — appears to be being forgotten. It speaks to the limited attention spans of Western societies, as well as the power of the hard-left to shape the political and broadcast media narrative.”

Bloomberg columnist Niall Ferguson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has also made the comparison between Israel and Ukraine as, “two democracies, each under attack by a sworn foe of Western civilization. . .

“Both have recently seen unarmed civilians, including children, brutally slaughtered, tortured, and kidnapped by their enemies. Both are sending their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers into brutal battles. . .

“And yet, despite all these resemblances, these two fighting democracies are treated much differently by the world. One [Ukraine] is praised for its heroism; the other [Israel] is condemned — even accused of genocide and ethnic cleansing. One [Ukraine] is encouraged to fight on to victory, ‘for as long as it takes’; the other [Israel] is told to agree to an immediate cease-fire before victory has been achieved. The armed forces of one country [Ukraine] can do no wrong; those of the other [Israel] are charged with ‘war crimes.’”

Ferguson notes that “thirty years ago, Israel agreed with the Palestine Liberation Organization on the beginnings of Palestinian self-government — “a separate Palestinian entity short of a state,” in the words of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — under the Oslo Accords. Prime Minister Ehud Barak went even further at Camp David in 2000, but PLO leader Yasser Arafat walked away from the table [without making a counteroffer, and two months later, started the Second Intifada].

“Have the Palestinians enhanced the case for statehood in the subsequent years?” Ferguson asks.“No,” he answers. “The Palestinian Authority is an oxymoron; Palestinians despise it, and it has no authority. A large majority of the inhabitants of Gaza, to say nothing of the Palestinians of the West Bank, prefer Hamas. The nature of Hamas was laid bare on October 7, which should be regarded as an event disqualifying the Palestinians from self-government, not entitling them to it.”

The painful truth is that after almost 25 years of failed efforts to negotiate a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over the sovereignty of the West Bank and Yerushalayim, chances for the Biden administration to achieve that goal in the process of trying to end the war in Gaza are smaller than ever.

That leaves our best remaining hope for peace for Klal Yisroel in the hands of Shomer Yisroel, Avinu ShebaShomayim.

 

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