Drs. Jan and Cornelia Flora are rural sociologists and Professors Emeriti at Iowa State University. The Floras visited Israel and the West Bank in 2015, relying on friends and acquaintances in both places as guides and sources for contacts; this was not a group tour. During their two-week visit, they spent about equal amounts of time in Israel and Palestine but did not visit Gaza. Later, they took an intensive week-long course with a Cornell University professor on U.S. policy toward Israel. Jan Flora relies mainly on newspapers, such as Ha’aretz (online English language newspaper from Israel) and the New York Times, for contemporary news on Israel and Palestine.
President Joe Biden gave a heartfelt speech on October 10 in support of Israel and against Hamas’ terrorism. He recalled his memorable first meeting with Prime Minister Golda Meir, when he was a first-term U.S. senator. She told him, “We (Israelis) have a secret weapon: We have nowhere else to go.”
But, President Biden, isn’t the fundamental issue that there are two peoples—Jewish Israelis and Palestinians—in the same territory with “nowhere else to go”? In 2007, former President Jimmy Carter called the control that Israel exercises over Palestinians an apartheid system.
The policies of Biden and Donald Trump fail to consider that simple truth.
President Trump’s facilitation of the Abraham Accords (Israel’s establishment of diplomatic relations with the U.A.E., Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan) laid bare recent U.S. presidents’ policies, which inexorably rendered Palestinians’ legitimate demands for self-determination almost impossible. President Bill Clinton made the last serious effort to broker a two-state agreement. Biden’s drive to get Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel would have driven another nail in the coffin of Palestinian self-determination.
In Biden’s October 19 speech from the Oval Office, he paid lip service to the “pie-in-the sky by-and-by” two-state solution, but Hamas’ unforeseen pogrom in southern Israel scuttled any agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, re-energizing a concern on the Arab street for the plight of the Palestinians that Arab governments could not ignore.
The U.S. and Israel take parallel actions to keep atrocities against Palestinians below the radar. Last year the U.S. abetted Israel’s effort to obfuscate who killed American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh in the West Bank. A New York Times investigation in 2022 showed that she was almost certainly killed by an Israeli military sniper, although her attire was marked “Press.” Yet the U.S. rubber-stamped the Israeli inquiry, which claimed insufficient evidence.
Neither brazen attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian homes in the West Bank (abetted by the Israeli courts and military), nor the expansion of settlements beyond 500,000 Israelis have stirred the U.S. to oppose these violations of international law. Since the Hamas attacks of October 7, killings by Israelis in the West Bank have accelerated.
Observers have referred to Gaza as “an open-air prison” because of the extreme lack of employment, commerce, and mobility imposed on Gazans. Destroying Hamas is a quixotic goal. Hamas or a like-minded group will rise again so long as the Israeli state threatens Palestinians’ right to a homeland.
Moreover, Trump scuttled the premier foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama-Biden administration. The agreement with Iran would have delayed their nuclear aspirations for more than a decade. It might have brought some goodwill between the two parties, now sorely needed to avoid a regional war.
What should the U.S. do?
- Insist that Israel end collective punishment of civilians through a multilateral push for an immediate cease fire in Gaza.
- With Qatar, broker a phased release of the hostages taken by Hamas, perhaps starting by exchanging women and children captured in Israel with Palestinian women and children in Israeli jails.
- Building on the goodwill generated by a hostage/prisoner exchange, seek a permanent cessation of hostilities, avoiding a ground invasion of Gaza.
- Organize strong international support for Israeli talks with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to address Israel’s repression of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and to end Hamas-sponsored terrorism. The U.S. should not be the principal convenor.
- Longer term, support efforts for Israelis and Palestinians, both with “nowhere else to go,” to live in harmony in historic Palestine. That may require thinking beyond a two-state solution.
Raja Abdulrahim, Patrick Kingsley, Christiaan Triebert and Hiba Yazbek, “The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh: Tracing a Bullet to an Israeli Convoy,” New York Times, June 21, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/20/world/middleeast/palestian-journalist-killing-shireen.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20220621&instance_id=64579&nl=todaysheadlines®i_id=17171432&segment_id=96318&user_id=95806c6e95dc93f32ebc59376fd7ec66
Setton, Dan, and Tor Ben Mayor, producers and directors, “Shattered Dreams of Peace: The Road from Oslo,” PBS Frontline (WGBH Boston), 1 hour 57 minutes, July 27, 2002, https://video.scetv.org/video/shattered-dreams-of-peace-the-road-to-oslo-spoc9i/
The wall cuts through East Jerusalem. Before the Six Day war, it was inhabited largely by Palestinians, who have been largely removed from the Israeli side of the wall. The wall regulates the flow of West-Bank Palestinians, but it also a psychological barrier for Israeli Jews. They rarely go to the West Bank. It is like a foreign country to them — out of sight, out of mind. Photo: Jan Flora, November 2015.
Top photo of Jan Flora provided by the author and published with permission.