Saturday’s terrorist attacks in Israel by Hamas militants represent the worst crisis between Israelis and Palestinians in more than two decades. But rather than offering constructive policy alternatives, Republican presidential candidates have settled on an intellectually bankrupt strategy of blaming the Biden administration for everything. The finger-pointing is particularly rich given the way that the Trump administration obliterated longstanding American policy in the region, handed a series of pinless policy grenades to President Biden and then took cover.
The inability to broker a final settlement between Israel and Palestine is an American foreign policy failure that spans at least six administrations stretching back to the 1980s. But it was the last two Republican presidents who departed dramatically from the international “land for peace” consensus that was supposed to result in a Palestinian state. Former President George W. Bush, despite occasional rhetoric supporting Palestinian statehood, walked back America’s commitment to widely shared interpretations of UN Security Council Resolution 242 by signing off on Israel retaining large settlement blocs in the West Bank, demanding that Palestinians usher in a functioning democracy before peace was possible and then washing his hands of the matter when he didn’t like the election results. His world-historically disastrous war of choice in Iraq did more to bolster Iranian authoritarians than any other single event since the country’s revolution in 1979.
But it was former President Donald Trump who did far more catastrophic damage. Trump greenlit the needlessly provocative move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, part of which is located in territory the United Nations considered unlawfully occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. The move abandoned another longstanding American negotiating position—that Jerusalem would ultimately be a shared capital between two national people.
Warned that moving the embassy would result in blowback down the line, the Trump administration and its allies mostly gloated about how clever they were. When Palestine did not immediately erupt into chaos, they concluded that the maneuver would have no repercussions. Not only that, but Trump then recognized the permanent Israeli annexation of the occupied Golan Heights and invalidated a 1978 State Department ruling that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were unlawful.
Instead, the Trump administration gave the Israeli government carte blanche not only to expand existing settlements but to grant even isolated encampments anywhere in the West Bank legitimacy and sovereignty. The Trump administration’s subservience to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his maximalist government was so complete that polling suggested Israel would have given the former president his largest margin over Biden if it were a U.S. state.
To make matters worse, the Trump team followed through on its promise to torch the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran Deal. Not even the Trump officials responsible for this gratuitous act of diplomatic sabotage could identify any reason for it, other than that they wanted to. The move not only led predictably to the resumption of Iranian nuclear activities but also to the election of an ultra-hardline government in Tehran that redoubled its destructive meddling in regional affairs, including providing cash, training and weapons to Hamas militants.
The Biden administration did little to reverse any of these Trump disasters, even picking up the baton of helping Israel conclude separate peace agreements with Arab states rather than encouraging a resumption of talks with Palestinians. Biden has refused to follow through on reopening the consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinians. And ultimately, the administration’s severe political risk aversion has insulated it neither from disingenuous Republican attacks nor Palestinian frustration with the status quo.
Nevertheless, claiming that the president is responsible for the horrific Hamas attacks inside of Israel is preposterous, like poking a hornet’s nest, running away and then blaming the sucker who comes along next and gets stung. The Trump administration did everything it possibly could to encourage and legitimize Palestinian violence against Israelis, and Republicans have little standing to point fingers at Biden for it. Worse still are false and disgusting charges by charlatans like Vivek Ramaswamy and Trump himself that the Biden administration “funded Hamas,” a zombie lie that will surely be repeated thousands of times between now and next November no matter how many articles are publishing debunking it.
Biden must not allow this tragedy to suck the United States back into its previous, heavy-handed military posture in the region, or to encourage Israeli military strikes on Iranian nuclear installations in retaliation for Tehran’s role in the attacks. The administration should instead use this terrible moment as an opportunity to advance a new vision of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, one that doesn’t rely on what are by now dead-letter proposals for statehood that lack anything approaching majority support in Israel or Palestine.
David Faris is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Roosevelt University and the author of It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. His writing has appeared in The Week, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Washington Monthly and more. You can find him on Twitter @davidmfaris.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.