Palestine and the 2020 election: Strategy for Advocates of Palestinian Human Rights

(Artwork: BDS: Justice through Solidarity)

As the 2020 election approaches, advocates of Palestinian rights have a seemingly difficult decision. On closer examination however, I think our course should be pretty clear.

On one hand there is Trump, whose Middle East policy in general, and with Palestine in particular, has been an atrocious “outsourcing” of US interests to those of Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wing parties in Israel.

On the other hand, there is the Biden/Harris ticket. Neither of them has been exactly stellar on behalf of Palestinian rights. Still when one looks at other factors, the choice is starkly different—and our path forward should be obvious.

We can hardly promote the Palestinian cause if we totally lose democracy in our own country. Trump’s ongoing attack on almost every aspect of our democratic institutions has activists of every stripe completely caught up in their own issues. In this context, the Democratic ticket is far superior to Trump (and, sad but true, a non-vote or a vote for a third party will only help Trump). We need to be realistic here. In simple military terms, we need to secure our base of operations before we can look further afield. Sadly, to most Americans, Palestine is still a very marginal issue. Anyone who really hopes to help the situation in Palestine should support the Biden ticket without any sniping from the sidelines. Trump’s supporters will only use any criticism of Biden as a wedge to divide us.

The choice is stark. With Trump, there is no way forward. He simply ignores other views (even if they are majority views) and proceeds in his own unprincipled ways. The Trump/ Kushner/ Netanyahu trio is impervious as long as it is allowed to exist.  

The Biden/ Harris ticket, on the other hand, whatever its initial leanings, provides a number of avenues through which activists can work for a just peace in Palestine. Consider these facts.

  1. Demonization of Iran has been a top foreign policy goal of Israel for many years. Biden will certainly try to restore the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as “the Iran Deal”) as soon as possible. That will strain the US/Israeli bond. In considering the region, we must not become so preoccupied with Palestine that we overlook the dangers and injustice inherent in a wider war. Biden is unlikely to be lured (as Netanyahu clearly wishes) into a US attack on Iran. Defeating Israel’s Iran policy will be a significant set-back for Zionism in itself.
  2. Biden and people who will come into his administration will remember the humiliations that Netanyahu tried to heap on both Biden and Obama. Netanyahu hardly looks forward to a Biden win—with good reason. Biden and Harris are both smart people who can still learn. Their policy might be surprisingly more progressive than some of the things they have said in the past—but only if we both get their backs and push them forward after the election.  
  3. If Palestinian activists work unstintingly for a Biden win, they will have a distinct voice in the new administration. A generational change is underway in the Democratic party that makes it much more open to the issue of Palestinian human rights. A Biden win will owe a huge debt to the more progressive wing of the Democratic party—their ideas will at least get a hearing in a Biden administration. It will not escape astute observers that AOC, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar all won contested primaries (some against piles of AIPAC money) by whopping margins.
  4. Perhaps most important, a Biden win will be largely due to huge support from the Black community and other minorities. I have pointed out in an earlier article (“What Black Lives and Palestinian Lives Have in Common”)* the striking parallels between the two issues/peoples. Democrats can hardly forge ahead with a plausible program to combat systemic racism in the US while funding an apartheid, segregationist, supremacist policy abroad. This can be a tremendous point of leverage in the quest for Palestinian rights.
  5. Finally, Biden will govern largely in a post-pandemic world. The political landscape will be dramatically changed. The usually complacent moderate white voters will have been given quite a scare by how far Trump was able to take the country in the direction of dictatorship. It will be hard for them to escape the fact that liberal activists of all kinds were the first to sound the alarms and man the barricades. Average Americans will also be struggling with the new economic reality while the movement for real civil rights and police reform will have gained serious attention. In this context giving huge amounts of aid to an apartheid state like Israel (especially while advocating justice and combating white supremacy here at home) must surely loose its appeal—at least, if we work at it.

All in all, with a Biden win built on unstinting support by progressives, we can create a number of viable pathways for advocates of justice in Palestine to make their case.

With Trump, there is no way forward—only the prospect of our own diminishing rights. Days ago, Trump’s chief economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, described voting rights as just another ‘unreasonable’ liberal democratic “ask” in negotiations over Coronavirus aid. Gee. I thought that the right to vote and elect our own leaders was what we fought for in the Revolutionary War. Now, suddenly, it’s something we are asking for?  Strikingly, Kudlow wasn’t just calling into question votes by minorities or immigrants, but ALL votes. As he added, voting rights is “not our game.” Actually, Trump took an oath to uphold the constitution, so it better be their game.

Before we will have any credible leverage over the eventual status of Palestinians in Israel or the occupied territories, we need to put our own house in order. For that, a huge Biden victory is essential. One example is control of state-houses across the nation. A big Democratic wave could result in Democratic control of states where GOP legislators have basically tried to criminalize advocacy on behalf of Palestine. Just to have barriers like that removed can help us immeasurably. We can work out our strategy going forward after the election is resolved. One thing is certain, misguided sniping at Biden from the sidelines is not the answer if we want a democratic state here, and fair treatment of Palestinians in their own country. It will only weaken our eventual leverage on a new Biden administration.  Above all, advocates for Palestinian rights should not engage in bickering over whether there should be a “Two-State Solution” or a “One-State Solution.” If we truly respect the Palestinian people we are trying to help, we should leave that decision to them.

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