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First Debate Underscored Both Candidates’ Fealty to Israel Amid Genocide

Neither Trump nor Biden seem willing to address the root causes of the Palestinian struggle and regional instability.

When it comes to Middle East policy, especially as it relates to U.S. support for Israel, Trump’s vision for U.S. involvement in the region is only marginally different from Biden’s.

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Last night’s presidential debate was an indication of how little both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump understand the truth of the Israeli occupation and genocide in Palestine, and how unwilling and incapable either administration would be of supporting an end to U.S.-enabled wars in the Middle East and achieving lasting peace and stability in the region.

In discussing his proposed ceasefire deal, Biden claimed that Hamas was the lone holdout that wants the war to continue. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated that he would not agree to a deal that stipulates an end to its war on Gaza. Trump, true to his usual racist self, used the word “Palestinian” as a slur and accused Biden of becoming “a Palestinian … a bad Palestinian” for trying to hinder Israel’s assault and not letting Israeli Occupation Forces “finish the job.”

The one thing that struck me when I listened to Biden and Trump is how totally unaware they are of how horrifying their actions — and the actions of the U.S. Congress — are to most of the world. For example, to most people around the globe, inviting Netanyahu — who is responsible for the deaths of nearly 38,000 people and the total destruction of Gaza — to address both chambers of Congress confirms the U.S.’s active participation in the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, its isolation from the rest of the world, and the actions it takes in contradiction with the wishes of the majority of its own citizens.

Whereas Biden doubled down on his support of Israel and condemnation of Hamas during the debate, Trump largely deflected the Palestine question. When it comes to Middle East policy, especially as it relates to U.S. support for Israel, Trump’s vision for U.S. involvement in the region is only marginally different from Biden’s.

In the early days of his presidency, Biden pledged to place “human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy,” which would have distinguished him from his predecessor. But this pledge disappeared into thin air as Biden supported and defended Israel’s atrocities in Gaza even as the International Court of Justice deemed them plausibly genocidal and ordered Israel to halt its assault on Rafah and immediately allow aid trucks to reach the people of Gaza.

While Trump has been open about his admiration for autocratic leaders and dictators, Biden pledged on the campaign trail in 2020 to be the leader who will promote democracy around the world. But no sooner had he entered the White House than he backed off this vow, including his promise to take a harder line on U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia.

Biden and Trump share a similar failed approach to a region that has been plagued with disaster for decades, primarily because of the U.S.’s “unconditional” diplomatic, financial and military support for Israel that goes hand in hand with Israel’s historic and current role as an occupying settler colony — the largest and longest occupation in modern times. The oppression, dehumanization and displacement of Palestinians under Israel’s apartheid system is one of the main causes of the destabilizing wars and conflicts throughout the region.

In their respective tenures, Trump and Biden both gave Netanyahu everything he asked for. Netanyahu’s recently released video in which he scolded the Biden administration for not supplying Israel with sufficient weapons and ammunitions only exemplified his view of Israel’s entitlement to unchecked U.S. support. In a recent effort to score political points and show that he is a greater supporter of Israel, Trump accused Biden of “abandoning” the Israeli state when the administration briefly suspended the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel as it prepared to invade Rafah. Biden addressed this at last night’s debate, saying, “[T]he only thing I’ve denied Israel was 2,000-pound bombs. They don’t work very well in populated areas. They kill a lot of innocent people. We are providing Israel with all the weapons they need and when they need them.” He then reiterated his support for Israel, commenting, “We saved Israel. We are the biggest producer of support for Israel than anyone in the world.”

Like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration’s main focus in the Middle East is not halting the Israeli assault on Gaza, nor is it finding a solution that would end Israel’s 76 years of terror and denial of Palestinian rights — the only way to achieve stability and regional security in the Middle East. Its number one aim is to continue and advance the Arab-Israeli normalization project that Trump has started and building a U.S.-backed anti-Iran coalition. In this, both Trump and Biden have followed the same dangerous path that will prolong the suffering of the Palestinian people and leave the region in a constant state of war.

Both Trump and Biden have also abandoned the traditional elements of U.S. foreign policy that have survived for many decades.

During his presidency, Trump supported and helped accelerate Israel’s occupation, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and shut down the de facto Palestinian embassy in Washington, D.C. The Biden administration did not reverse any of these moves, nor did it reopen the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem that served Palestinians.

The Biden administration continued to enable Israel, supporting its current assault on Gaza and the death, total destruction and displacement of 80 percent of Gaza’s population. The administration used its veto power to block UN Security Council ceasefire resolutions and continually supplied weapons and ammunition after October 7, resulting in a massive increase in the death toll from the relentless bombardment of Gaza and from Israel’s use of starvation as a weapon of war. Biden’s refusal to force Israel to end its blockade and allow aid trucks carrying food, water and medical supplies to enter Gaza is one of the biggest failures of his presidency, especially in light of broad support among U.S. voters for a ceasefire that has only increased as the assault on Gaza has continued.

Biden has also continued Trump’s legacy by embracing the Abraham Accords on Arab-Israeli normalization — an alliance that excluded the Palestinians and cemented four bilateral normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — and continued the shuttle diplomacy to get the Saudis on board. The Biden administration, eager for Saudi Arabia to distance itself from Iran, pushed hard to get the Saudi Kingdom to normalize relations with Israel by making promises such as: guaranteeing that the U.S. will come to the kingdom’s defense if attacked; allowing Saudi Arabia to establish a nuclear program; and supplying it with advanced weapons systems and materials. In exchange, the U.S. would pledge its support for a “path” to Palestinian statehood. We know from the last “pledge” and “path” during the Oslo Accords that such paths are designed to lead to a dead end. They are schemes that buy Israel time to create facts on the ground and achieve its end game of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians from their land.

Back in January 2020, then-President Trump introduced his “peace plan” to resolve the so-called Israel-Palestine conflict. He proposed legitimizing illegal Israeli settlements by incorporating them into Israeli territory and annexing the Jordan Valley; requiring that the state of Palestine remain completely demilitarized; denying Palestinian refugees the right of return, which is universally recognized in international refugee law; and recognizing Jerusalem as the “undivided capital” of Israel and Al-Quds — the Arabic name for Jerusalem — as the capital of a future Palestinian state. In return for Palestinians accepting his plan, which offers them less than 15 percent of historic Palestine, he promised to “facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over 10 years,” which includes the construction of a tunnel between the West Bank and Gaza.

While Trump’s plan was not one that any Palestinian leader would seriously consider, Biden had no appetite for peace plans even though he talked about the “two-state solution” at every opportunity — without a plan or the wisdom to know that the two-state solution is long dead.

This Is the First Time in U.S. History That Palestine Has Become a Domestic Issue

In an election year that also witnessed a huge outpouring of support for Palestine — on university campuses and in cities and towns around the U.S. — the Palestine issue has risen to the fore in an unprecedented way. The shift in discourse and change in public opinion, the student movement, labor unions, churches, young American Jews, and so many other factors have made Palestine, and specifically U.S. support for the Israeli assault on Gaza, an important issue this election year.

While Biden has repeatedly condemned protests for Palestinian liberation as “antisemitic,” Trump showed his disdain for solidarity actions during the debate with a novel framing, comparing them to one of the most infamous acts of white supremacist street violence during his presidency: “For three and a half years, we’re living in hell. We have the Palestinians and we have everybody else rioting all over the place. You talk about Charlottesville. This is 100 times Charlottesville, 1,000 times.”

Regardless of whether Biden or Trump is the next president of the United States, they will not be able to ignore Palestine because the younger generations will not be backing down. Palestinians are resilient — they are determined to keep their struggle alive.

The total decadeslong neglect of the Palestine issue in the U.S. and by the international community — and the U.S.’s bias towards Israel — is responsible for the complete failure to reach agreement on a final negotiated settlement. Neither Trump nor Biden will address the root causes of the Palestinian struggle and regional instability. They will continue with the policies of the past that failed repeatedly in bringing about peace and stability. Peace can only happen when the Palestinians’ political demands — freedom, equality and justice — are addressed and resolved.

At a time when the Gaza genocidal assault is still underway and Palestinians are dying from the indiscriminate bombardment and starvation, we must not let Biden’s deception or Trump’s lies break our commitment to freedom and justice for Palestinians and an end to Israel’s atrocities and the U.S.’s complicity in the genocide.

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