The frenzied reaction by the Biden Administration to the recent electoral successes of the Israeli right was startling. While diplomatic tradition has it that new governments are welcomed by friends with wishes for success and vows to continue to work together, administration officials were having none of that.
From the get go – even before Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu had a chance to pick a government – all one heard from Biden officials were warnings about red lines when it came to the Israel/Palestinian conflict and the two-state solution, and that the Unites States would hold Israel’s feet to the fire.
We believe this departure from the norm was designed to set the stage for a rollback of much of the Trump tilt towards Israel, something President Biden intended all along. That process is well under way, and now further estrangement between Israel and the U.S. seems in the offing.
Last week, at an “emergency meeting” of the UN Security Council, U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood said that the United States opposed the recent visit by an Israeli government minister to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. “We are concerned by any unilateral acts that exacerbate tensions or undermine the viability of a two-state solution,” he said, and “[the United States] firmly supports the preservation of he historical status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem, especially on the Haram al Sharif Temple Mount.”
“In this spirit we oppose any and all unilateral actions that depart from the historical status quo that are unacceptable,” he continued, pointedly not going into how the visit violated the status quo. We hope that he was made at least a little uncomfortable by what Israel’s ambassador to the UN had to say.
“Israel has not harmed the status quo and has no plans to do so,” said Ambassador Gilad Erdan. “The only side that is changing the status quo is the Palestinian Authority. Why? Because by turning the site into a battleground … the Palestinian Authority is making it clear that not only is Jewish prayer intolerable on the Temple Mount, but so is any Jewish presence.”
The United States of America is okay with Arab states barring Jews from part of Jerusalem, which U.S. law declares to be the capital of the Jewish state. To be sure, there are serious halachic issues concerning Jews ascending the Har HaBayis, but that is of no concern to the international community.
And there was more such presumptuous tampering with Jewish sovereignty.
With much pomp and circumstance, the U.S. has repatriated a 3,000-year-old Assyrian incense pourer that was reportedly looted from the Judea and Samaria region, after it was seized by American officials in the course of an investigation into the illegal sale of architectural artifacts. This event marked the first time that the Palestinian Authority was deemed the legitimate recipient of property stolen from the ancient Middle East.
The turnover was overseen by the chief of the Biden administration’s recently established U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs, headed by George Noll. Noll reportedly said his office “is proud to have facilitated the return of this rare antiquity, an example of Palestinian cultural patrimony.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also announced an unexpected visit to Israel following Israel’s announcement of sanctions to be imposed on the Palestinian Authority. Among the sanctions are the freezing of Palestinian construction in some parts of the West Bank and curbing the right of MKs to visit terrorists in prison. Significantly, all are well within the legitimate power of a sovereign government to impose.
It should also be noted that these efforts to fray U.S.-Israel ties and burnish U.S.-Palestinian ones come in the midst of a noticeable downplaying of violence by the Palestinians. While there were the usual threats of dire retribution for any Israeli attempts to ascend the Temple Mount, the day after the actual visit the PA said merely that they will hold Prime Minister Netanyahu “responsible”; and Hamas spoke of the ultimate redemption of the Palestinian cause.
It is almost as if the Palestinians have come to understand that their past violence rendered them toxic and they now sense a chance for a breakthrough with the U.S. We must always be mindful that history has demonstrated that duplicity is the name of their game.