The more timid Biden is with Netanyahu, the further away a two-state solution gets

Washington is discussing grand plans for a regional peace, but it will take a lot more courage to make that happen

US President Joe Biden has expressed frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rejection of his warnings over Israel's mounting attacks on Palestinian civilians. Reuters
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is growing more tenacious in rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state, confident in the Israeli public’s endorsement of his obstinacy against US President Joe Biden and decisive military action in Gaza seeking to crush Hamas, at any cost.

The big dilemma is that Mr Biden is unwilling to use Washington’s arms deliveries and generous funding as leverage to Israel to pressure Mr Netanyahu to stop pursuing this path. The fact that the influential Israel lobby in the US uncritically endorses Israel’s policies despite divisions even within the country on Mr Netanyahu’s character only makes things harder.

Some posit that the global upsurge in support for a two-state solution is a noteworthy development, given the growing anger in the US, both within the government and among the public, at Israel's inhumane conduct against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. But one might worry not just that the world could just as quickly forget the need for the establishment of a Palestinian homeland, but also at the prospect of having to bet once again on America to achieve a two-state solution in the face of Israeli opposition.

Arab states are banking on tangible progress in their pursuit of Palestinian rights represented by the two-state solution, based on the premise that Israel needs normalisation and economic co-operation with them, and that the Biden administration is committed to achieving a major settlement between Israel and the Arab countries, Turkey and Iran.

But the grand settlement US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his team desire so badly will remain off the table if Joe Biden is incapable of shaping Israel’s behaviour.

Is there any other solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict besides the two-state proposal? Israel puts forth one idea with arrogant audacity: Jordan as an alternative homeland for Palestinians, while other Arab nations must absorb displaced Palestinians, starting with Egypt in the Sinai. In Israel's perspective, the rest of the world should allocate “quotas" to accommodate displaced Palestinians, showing them "mercy".

The big dilemma is that Biden is unwilling to use Washington’s arms deliveries and generous funding as leverage

So, what are the other alternatives? An international war is not one of them – not in the least because attrition wars hurt Palestinians – particularly civilians. While these wars may be costly for Israel, the cost for Palestinians is much higher.

Furthermore, the silence from Syria amid Israeli strikes on critical Syrian sites, including Damascus airport, has been deafening after clear warnings from Israel and the US about the high cost of any Syrian involvement. Even Iran, Syria’s main backer, has shown no eagerness for Damascus to respond to Israel.

The “unity of battlefronts” promoted by Iran through its Axis of Resistance has proven to be a hollow promise, embarrassing its forces and exposes its claims. The Iranian proxies are scattered. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean things cannot change. A spark might be enough to ignite more fires. Southern Lebanon remains vulnerable to the possibility of a major confrontation, but also to a settlement based on a mutual American-Iranian desire to avoid a regional war.

Israel currently perceives the war against Hamas as an existential battle, a perspective the Biden administration comprehends. Washington’s concern is with Israel's ruthless killing of civilians using American weapons and ammunition. It has been collaborating with Arab nations on developing the components of a permanent settlement, hoping it will involve a new Palestinian administration led by a technocratic Palestinian Authority instead of Hamas, with a US commitment to establishing a Palestinian state.

This is not the first time it has appeared as though the establishment of a Palestinian state might be possible. Since the Oslo Accords 30 years ago, and the "roadmap" agreed for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the latter has consistently resisted all efforts and pressures aimed at implementing the two-state solution.

During the presidency of George W Bush, I conducted an exclusive interview with his then secretary of state, Colin Powell, for Al Hayat. At the time, he stated Mr Bush would propose establishing a temporary Palestinian state as a transitional step towards a permanent one. But the White House quickly distanced itself from Mr Powell's idea, saying it represented his own thoughts and not those of the president.

Back then, discussions revolved around the framework of a peace process within an agreed-upon timeline leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Israeli prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, opposed such a timeline. Consequently, Mr Bush backtracked, stating he, too, was not prepared to accept it.

That was 22 years ago, and today we still strive to persuade Israel merely to accept the notion of the two-state solution in the future within an open-ended timeframe. The Arab states are approaching the issue pragmatically, encouraging Israel to accept two states and recognise the benefits to it. They are actively engaged with the United States in attempting to broker peace, as they have always been despite coming up against unconditional US allegiance to Israel.

The arrival of the head of the CIA, William Burns, to the region for talks with Israel at this moment of the political confrontation between Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu suggests another attempt to convince Israel to at least consider not entirely rejecting the two-state solution.

Some are appalled by how the President of the mighty US, which allocates over $3.8 billion annually to Israel and continually shields it from accountability, accepts political and personal humiliation from Israel’s leader without taking any practical measures to constrain him.

Perhaps Mr Biden's patience has limits, and he might soon turn his soft ultimatums into firm policies. The dilemma is that Mr Netanyahu not only rides the wave of unyielding extremism but also enjoys popular approval for his aggressive policies. Israel has long proclaimed to the world that it will never accept the establishment of a Palestinian state beside it, insisting that the two-state solution is nothing more than a fantasy in the minds of others.

In the face of all these facts, what options exist against Israel's intransigence? Mr Netanyahu has turned off the light at the end of the tunnel, leaving Mr Biden in the dark.

Published: February 18, 2024, 2:00 PM