The Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for example, built on the steady ethnic cleansing of the city’s Palestinian population through forced removal, residency revocation, denial of permits for family reunification, retroactive application of exorbitant taxes, settler takeovers of Palestinian homes and home demolitions overseen and allowed by successive U.S. administrations from both political parties. The embassy relocation was a culmination of this policy and, frankly, removed the emperor’s clothing. Far from condemning Biden’s refusal to move the embassy back to Tel Aviv, the 2020 Democratic Party Platform insisted that Jerusalem “should remain the capital of Israel,” and, at some point in time, also be subject to the farcical peace process.
Ever since the 1967 War, when the United States replaced Britain and France as Israel’s primary imperial patron, the provision of unequivocal financial, military and diplomatic support to Israel has been a linchpin of U.S. bipartisanship. While the majority of Palestinian Americans, and Arab Americans more generally, supported the Biden-Harris ticket, they did so understanding that they did not have — and have never had — a presidential candidate who represented their freedom dreams for Palestine.
This is not to say that there is no daylight between President Trump and Biden on Palestine. The Biden administration, for example, could reinstate U.S. aid for Palestinian refugees, and it will allow the reopening of the Palestine Liberation Organization Mission Office in Washington; it also wants to include Palestinians back in negotiations.
To be sure, the Trump administration was so brazen that there would have been a difference with nearly anyone else, including other Republicans. I don’t think anyone would have ever appointed a bankruptcy lawyer with open affiliations to right-wing settler groups and no diplomatic experience as the U.S. ambassador to Israel. But beyond Trump’s on-brand aversion to professionalism and expertise, there are at least two major areas where a Biden administration might offer opportunities.
The first is time. In the past four years, the United States dropped the descriptor “occupied” to describe the Palestinian territories, ended all aid to UNRWA, issued an executive order that makes plausible equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, closed the PLO mission, blessed Israel’s acquisition of the Syrian Golan Heights, and facilitated Israel’s normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan without a single enduring concession for Palestinian rights. Most significantly, with its “Deal of the Century,” the Trump administration definitively ended the possibility of a viable Palestinian state by endorsing a permanent autonomy arrangement across some two dozen noncontiguous territories separated by Israeli civilian and military infrastructure in what are tantamount to bantustans or reservations.
Centrist U.S. policy may have ultimately led to similar outcomes. However, at a much slower pace, Palestinians and their allies would have had greater opportunities to resist. The rapid-fire nature of these cascading blows left Palestinians scrambling on the defensive. Time would not have necessarily promised a different outcome, but it certainly would have offered greater possibilities for shaping them. The Biden administration offers more time for strategic intervention.
The second opportunity is to strengthen a progressive insurgency within the Democratic Party that is committed to social, economic and racial justice and is critical of U.S. foreign policy, including on Israel. While both President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris have vowed to never condition aid to Israel, several prominent members of Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have proposed measures to do just that and are steadily turning a once sacrilegious pledge into a contentious policy debate.
In addition to the Squad, several newly elected representatives to the 117th Congress — including Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Marie Newman (D-Ill.) — have criticized Israeli policies and supported Palestinian rights. This reflects a broader shift in the Democratic base. A 2018 Pew Research poll indicates that not only has Israel increasingly become a partisan issue among Republicans and Democrats, but that within the Democratic Party “nearly twice as many liberal Democrats say they sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel.”
The Biden administration may represent the traditional Democratic establishment that remains unconditionally loyal to Israel, but the establishment itself is under heightened scrutiny from within its party as well as among leftist political constellations that are credited with ensuring the Democrats’ electoral victory. Palestinian freedom is increasingly part of the moral and political compass of this progressive movement.
The Biden administration offers different conditions for struggle, ones that have been foreclosed by Trump for the past four years. The onus is on Palestinians and their allies to turn time into a strategy for resistance and a Democratic internal struggle into a defining turning point. Ultimately, the path forward does not look for saviors in U.S. politicians but seeks strategic interventions within a broader set of tools, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and building solidarity with other social justice struggles.