On Wednesday afternoon, US President Joe Biden landed in Israel for the start of a four-day regional tour which will include the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia. This tour comes at a critical time for the Biden administration, which continues to struggle not only with the ongoing war in Ukraine, the pandemic, but also with rising inflation and energy prices, as well as the international outrage over Israel’s killing of veteran Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
President Biden opened his speech after landing in the airport by saying, “It’s an honor to once again stand with friends and visit the independent, Jewish State of Israel.” The Palestinian Arab community, which represents over 20% of the citizens of the state of Israel, were thoroughly excluded from his speech; despite the fact that this community is a key actor for building peace in the region.
President Biden later added, “we’ll discuss my continued support — even though I know it’s not in the near-term — a two-state solution. That remains, in my view, the best way to ensure the future of equal measure of freedom, prosperity, and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
A day prior to President Biden’s landing, the Mossawa Center hosted University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami at the Carmel Center for a talk on American foreign policy and the change in US public opinion regarding Israel and Palestine. The talk was held on the heels of a Washington Post article published by Professor Telhami in anticipation of Biden’s visit to the region. Overall, according to Professor Telhami’s findings, only 24% of Americans approve of the President’s visit to the Middle East, while 25% disapproved.
The more interesting findings from Professor Telhami’s polling come from how he phrased the questions. When the trip to Israel was explicitly mentioned (instead of only mentioning “the Middle East”), disapproval shot up to 31%. Equally as important was the disapproval rating among young Democrats (under 35). When Israel was invoked, disapproval of the trip spiked from just 8% to a whopping 30%. Among all Democrats, disapproval of the trip jumped from 10% to 17% when Israel was invoked.
However, perhaps the most interesting finding from Professor Telhami’s research is the general attitude among Democratic voters regarding where the US government’s foreign policy position should be regarding Israel and Palestine. According to Professor Telhami, more Democrats want the US to lean towards Palestine than Israel, representing 19% and 13% of Democratic voters, respectively. This disparity was even sharper among young Democrats, with 27% believing the US should lean towards Palestine and just 10% believing it should lean towards Israel. Still, the vast majority of Democrats (68%) believe that the US should not lean towards either side.
As Professor Telhami highlighted in his talk, young voters in the US are increasingly gaining more attention and importance within the Democratic Party. Moreover, they tend to be more progressive than the “old guard” of the party, thanks to whom Israel has enjoyed unwavering support for decades. This new generation of Democrats, however, are more critical of Israel and its policies, and believe that the US government should take more action to pressure the Israeli government to change its policies against the Palestinians.
As Professor Telhami highlighted in his talk, young voters in the US are increasingly gaining more attention and importance within the Democratic Party. Moreover, they tend to be more progressive than the “old guard” of the party, thanks to whom Israel has enjoyed unwavering support for decades. This new generation of Democrats, however, are more critical of Israel and its policies, and believe that the US government should take more action to pressure the Israeli to change its policies against the Palestinians.
Given this trend and the changing face of American public discourse regarding Israel and the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, the Mossawa Center believes now is a pivotal time to recognize a seldom mentioned failure of US policy in the region: its neglect for the Palestinian Arab minority inside of Israel.
The Mossawa Center believes that the US government ought to ensure the rights and demands of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel are also addressed if it truly wants to see stability and reconciliation happen. For starters, the Mossawa Center holds that the US ought to require that a certain portion of its annual multi-billion-dollar aid package to Israel be spent to develop the Palestinian Arab community in the country. Palestinian Arab localities already face significant shortfalls in their budgetary needs from the government which has, among other things, led to significant gaps in healthcare, education, housing, and employment between Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and their Jewish counterparts. It is time for the US government in general, and Democratic party in particular, to listen to the voices of young Americans who are increasingly demanding action to ensure the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are protected.