Apparently wary of bad "optics" during President Biden's upcoming July visit, the U.S. State Department has asked Israel to take a break from provocative actions in Jerusalem and the West Bank until after his trip.
The request came from Barbara Leaf, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs. It was submitted to Israeli officials that included foreign minister Yair Lapid, defense minister Benny Gantz and national security adviser Eyal Hulata. As first reported by Axios:
Leaf asked Israel to halt actions like home demolitions, evictions of Palestinians and decisions on settlement building, as well as decrease Israeli military operations in the West Bank until after Biden's visit, the officials said.
Axios reports that Gantz, Lapid and Hulata said they would "do their best," but that domestic political complexities would make halting such actions problematic.
"Unfortunately, even this humiliating plea may fall on deaf ears," Osama Abuirshaid, executive director of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), tells Middle East Eye. "The Israeli government is fully aware of the magnitude of this administration's weakness and can care less about the US president's embarrassment or loss of political capital despite unfettered U.S. support to Israel."
[The U.S. request] is illustrative of the United States' real policy toward Israel," says Palestinian-American activist and novelist Susan Abulhawa. "They generally don't care what Israel does, Israel can do whatever they want. But Biden's going on a trip there and he has a certain purpose and he wants to fulfill that purpose. It's kind of a wink and a nod to their partner, Israel, to lay low for a little bit."
During Biden's tenure, Israel has demolished over 1,200 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, leaving more than 1,600 Palestinians homeless. Israel targets buildings that have no permits—yet requests for such permits are seldom granted. One study found that, over a two-year period, Israel rejected 97% of permit applications in the largest part of the West Bank.
Israel doesn't always destroy the homes of Palestinians—sometimes, it evicts Palestinian families so Israelis can move in.
The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah has become a prominent flashpoint of that phenomenon. Israel annexed East Jerusalem, but Palestinians still consider it occupied Palestinian territory; many aspire for it to be the capital of an independent Palestine.
In May, thousands of nationalist Israelis marched through the Muslim Old City quarter of Jerusalem on Sunday. Along the way, the mostly young, orthodox Jewish throng chanted racist, genocidal slogans and attacked Palestinians and their property. The Biden administration was silent.
Leaf, who asked Israel to pause its provocative actions, was previously a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank launched with the blessings of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the money of many AIPAC donors. Founding Washington Institute director Martin Indyk himself worked at AIPAC and later twice served as U.S. ambassador to Israel.
On his July 13-16 Middle East trip, Biden will visit Israel and then Saudi Arabia. When campaigning for president, Biden pledged to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah." Now, with the U.S.-European trade war on Russia pushing gas and oil prices ever higher—and crushing Biden's approval rating—he's ready to take his turn bowing to Saudi royalty.
On Sunday, Biden awkwardly attempted to discount suggestions that his trip to the kingdom was about oil. "It has to do with national security for them—for Israelis," he told reporters.
Human rights activists have condemned Biden's planned Saudi Arabia visit, reminding Biden that U.S. intelligence concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder and dismemberment of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Though you won't hear much about this in the coming weeks, Israel has its own murdered journalist to account for—and this one was a U.S. citizen. In May, star Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was "shot dead in a targeted attack by Israeli forces," according to a painstaking forensic investigation by CNN, a network that rarely casts a critical eye at Israel.
And so, while Americans are forced to endure the devastation of the U.S. economy in the name of punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, Biden is primed to pander to two governments with their own dense resumés of war crimes and human rights violations.