Washington DC – Even compared to the volatile nature of Israel’s decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories, the past few weeks have been marked by extraordinary tensions and deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
But when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel this week, he merely reiterated Washington’s longstanding positions on the conflict: an “armored” commitment to Israel, calls for calm and rhetorical support for a two-state solution.
Almost everything Blinken said during a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday was drawn — sometimes verbatim — from previous State Department statements.
George Bisharat, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, said the US administration views occasional eruptions of violence in Israel and Palestine as “nuisances to be managed” while maintaining unconditional support for the Israeli government.
“From the point of view of the United States, let’s be realistic: they don’t care about Palestinian lives,” Bisharat told Al Jazeera.
“They only care to the extent that these flare-ups interfere with what the United States sees as its strategic interests in the region, which have nothing to do with the human rights of anyone, not just the Palestinians.”
Blinken’s visit comes after a Palestinian gunman fatally shot seven Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem on Friday after Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in one of the deadliest days in recent memory.
Despite rising tensions, the US administration is unlikely to change course anytime soon, said Annelle Sheline, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a US think tank.
“The Biden administration’s policy toward the Middle East in general, and toward Israel in particular, is based on maintaining the status quo, not acknowledging how the status quo is shifting under their feet,” Sheline told Al Jazeera.
“It’s long past time for a new approach, but I think we probably won’t see it,” she added.
“I have not seen any inclination from anyone in the administration that they are interested in trying to pressure Israel. I think they worry about the optics of it.”
Although Biden promised to make human rights a focus of his foreign policy when he took office, his administration has pushed for increased US support for Israel, which mainstream human rights groups have accused of imposing an apartheid system on the Palestinians.
Israel receives $3.8 billion in US military aid annually, and Biden increased the aid by $1 billion last year.
Criticizing Israel still carries a high political price in the US, experts said, while President Joe Biden praised his own ideological stance as a self-proclaimed Zionist.
Meanwhile, amid the Ukraine war, intensifying U.S. competition with China and a busy domestic agenda, Israel and Palestine are far from the top of Biden’s priorities — a reality that Bisharat said reinforces Washington’s view of the current crisis as a manageable sideline.
Echoing Sheline, Bisharat said US officials are waving the prospect of a two-state solution only to maintain the status quo of an indefinite Israeli occupation by treating it as temporary.
“It’s a distraction from people who appreciate the reality that we’re stuck in this rut of continued, ongoing settler colonialism in the West Bank – and all the apartheid measures that are necessary because of that,” he said.
There is no public criticism of Israel
Blinken, like other officials in the Biden administration, has been reluctant to publicly criticize Israel.
America’s top diplomat did not abandon that approach on Monday, as he praised the US-Israel alliance and highlighted Washington’s efforts to further “integrate” Israel into the Middle East and strengthen its normalization agreements with Arab states.
Blinken warned against moves that would go against the “vision” of a two-state solution, which he said would be “harmful to Israel’s long-term security and its long-term identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”
He also failed to give a clear answer to a question about the punitive measures Netanyahu’s government is considering imposing on the families of Palestinians who carry out attacks on Israelis, including deportations and house demolitions.
“There is no doubt that this is a very difficult moment. We have witnessed terrible terrorist attacks in recent days. Over many months we have witnessed an increase in violence that affects so many people,” Blinken said earlier Monday in Cairo before heading to Jerusalem.
During the press conference, together with Netanyahu, he paid tribute to the seven Israelis who were killed by a Palestinian gunman last week.
But Blinken did not mention at least 35 Palestinians, including eight children, killed by Israel this month, nor did he criticize Israeli settlements or mention Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, an American citizen who was fatally shot by Israeli forces last year.
The US State Department did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on whether Blinken raised the Abu Akleh case with Israeli officials on Monday.
After decades of unquestioning US support for Israel, many Palestinian observers say they don’t expect Blinken’s ongoing trip to bring about any change. The top US diplomat is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday in Ramallah.
Yara Hawari, a senior analyst at Al-Shabaka Political Network, a Palestinian think tank, called Blinken’s visit to the region “insignificant.”
“Indeed, his visit so far has been textbook – he reiterated the US’s unwavering support for Israel’s apartheid regime and praised the so-called special US-Israel relationship,” Hawari told Al Jazeera in an email.
“And let’s be clear, this is not just diplomatic support, but support that includes billions of dollars in bilateral aid and military assistance every year.”