It’s been less than a month since new US President Joe Biden has taken over the reins in the White House. And while it seems that Israel and the Middle East are currently not the administration’s top priority as the COVID-19 pandemic remains front and center, the initial hints of changes in policy when it comes to the Jewish state should not be ignored.
This past Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price, who serves under current Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was asked about reports that the JNF (KKL-JNF) was considering implementing a new policy to officially purchase private Arab land in Judea and Samaria in order to expand Jewish communities there.
It should be noted that according to an official KKL-JNF press statement, not much will change even if the organization makes things “official” since, “Throughout the years and till this very day, KKL-JNF has been operating in all parts of the land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria.”
Regardless, Price responded:
“We believe it is critical to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated, two-state solution. And unilateral steps might include annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, the provision of compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism... ”
It’s disappointing that the failed two-state solution approach might be revived, but perhaps even more disheartening is that Price called for refraining from “settlement activity” in the same breath as compensation for acts of terrorism.
In other words, in the new administration’s view, building kindergartens for Jewish children in Judea is just as big of a peace deterrent as the Palestinian Authority’s “Pay for Slay” program in which terrorists are incentivized and rewarded, along with their families, for murdering Israelis.
Drawing a comparison between Jewish construction on the one hand and Arab terrorism on the other, at most, essentially justifies the latter as a result of the former, but at the very least shows that the administration’s moral compass is already pointing in the wrong direction.
For those of us who believe in Israel’s rights to develop and strengthen our Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria, along with the Jordan Valley, it would seem that the “Pompeo Doctrine,” under which former secretary of state Mike Pompeo declared that Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are not inherently illegal under international law, has quickly become passé.
Flexing his doctrine this past November during the waning days of the Trump Administration, Pompeo even paid a visit to the Psagot Winery in the Sha’ar Binyamin Industrial Park, showing US support for businesses in the region.
I highly doubt that once Biden makes his highly anticipated phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the US and Israel start to work together within the reality of the new administration in Washington (and possibly in Jerusalem as well following our upcoming March elections), that Psagot will need to chill their wines, or let them breathe, in anticipation of a Blinken visit.
Another sign of concern that we aren’t in Kansas anymore – not specifically related to Judea and Samaria – took place just a day later, this past Friday.
During a White House Press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked questions by a reporter about the administration’s Middle East policies including: “Does the Biden administration still consider the Saudis and the Israelis important allies?”
Psaki stumbled through her answer saying that, “There are ongoing processes and internal interagency processes, one that I think we confirmed at an interagency meeting last week to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East. We’ve only been here three and a half weeks and I think I’m going to let those policy processes see themselves through before we give kind of a complete lay-down of what our national security approaches will be to a range of issues.”
Talk about a head-scratching answer to a relatively straightforward question.
Perhaps Psaki wanted to avoid talking about Saudi Arabia, or perhaps she wanted to avoid mentioning Israel. But it would seem that especially with the current US/Israel/Gulf alliance to confront the Iranian nuclear threat, or at least in regard to Israel, with a great history of bipartisan friendship between the two countries, the simple answer to that question would be “yes,” followed by “next question please.”
The bottom line is, whether it’s Judea and Samaria, or Israel in-general, it seems that even though it’s still early, the times they are a-changin’. Maybe once the US administration gets its feet wet a bit, we will once again see some of the positive approaches and policies we got spoiled with over the past four years. Then again, maybe these glimpses do reflect our new reality.
The writer is the international spokesman for the Gush Etzion Regional Council and host of the Israel Uncensored podcast series at thelandofisrael.com. His views are his own.