According to some Israeli scholars, the Biden administration’s actions have unwittingly led to the deadly round of hostilities in Israel and Gaza.
The escalation “is a test, and [US President Joe Biden] has failed,” said Prof. Eytan Gilboa, a Bar-Ilan University specialist on US diplomacy in the Middle East.
Biden’s errors, he said, started before the first rocket was launched.
Back in February, Biden lifted the designation of the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen as a global terrorist organization. Analysts said that the president believed the move would reduce violence in Yemen and against Saudi Arabia, but it has produced the opposite result.
“If you are a terrorist organization, and you don’t do anything and sanctions are lifted against you, this means you can do whatever you want,” Gilboa said. “Other terrorist organizations in the Middle East, like Hamas, look at this and say, ‘This is what the US is doing? Very good. We can exploit it.’”
In April, Biden announced that America would restore some $235 million in aid to the Palestinians that had been withdrawn by former President Donald Trump. About two-thirds of the money is being given to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which Trump cut off in 2018 because of its ties to terrorism.
“Hamas and Islamic Jihad were looking and saying to themselves that if the US restored this aid unconditionally, then we can do whatever we want,” Gilboa explained.
Finally, that same month, the US lifted sanctions on International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, also without any conditions.
“The ICC decided to investigate Israel for alleged war crimes in Gaza,” the professor said. “Bensouda is supposed to leave office by June 15 and the Biden administration did not even say to her that it would [only] lift the sanctions providing she did not investigate Israel but [would] leave that to her successor.”
Amid the violence, the administration has likewise shown a lack of understanding of the situation, including falsely equating Israel with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“We urge de-escalation on all sides,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday, failing to mention Hamas or Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations targeting civilians.
Price further stressed that “we welcome the steps the Israeli government has taken in recent days aimed at avoiding provocations, including the decision to avoid confrontations during the Jerusalem Day commemoration and the delay in the decision regarding the Sheikh Jarrah evictions.”
But the real estate feud in Jerusalem, Gilboa said, has little to do with the violence, and mentioning it seems misplaced once rockets were raining down.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been inciting violence and terrorism for weeks inside Israel and the Palestinian territories, and specifically on the Temple Mount, in response to a decision by the Palestinian Authority to cancel the elections that Hamas hoped to win. Their goal is to take over the West Bank and turn it into another Gaza, Gilboa said.
“The US is strengthening terrorist organizations who are against peace,” he said.
But not everyone agrees.
His colleague, Prof. Jonathan Rynhold, director of the Argov Institute for the Study of Israel and the Jewish People at Bar-Ilan, said that “the American position is very secondary as a factor” in the escalation. He said he would not have expected the Trump administration to do anything more other than “rhetorically being stronger in their support for Israel – and I don’t think that would have had any impact on the dynamic.”
America’s friendship does bolster Israel in difficult times, however.
Biden has given the vibe that he at best has “ambiguous feelings toward the current Israeli government, which might influence his overall attitude toward Israel,” according to Prof. Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.
Ganor said that with two-thirds of the Israeli population running to bomb shelters for cover – vying to protect their children and the elderly – Israelis across the political spectrum should expect a different attitude from the American administration.
“This unprecedented situation is far from ending and this is the time that Biden’s friendship is being checked,” Gilboa said. “The American administration’s attitude, for the time being, is quite disappointing.”