Obama shocked his supporters in 2008 when he made a speech to an AIPAC conference declaring his support for the Jewish state in the Levant. Whilst liberals have come to expect a pattern of change in foreign policy from his Republican predecessor, his sentiments undermined some hopes of a changed stance on the Arab-Israeli issue. Since taking office however, the new president has expressed on numerous occasions, his desire to bring peace to the region and bring about a mutual settlement to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Most recently Vice-President Joe Biden delivered his own speech to the AIPAC organisation, lauded in much of the mainstream media as finally pressing harsher terms on the Middle Eastern ally. Not only has he called on Israel to accept a two state solution to the crisis, but also to, “not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement.”  He claims that the reluctance of Israel to pursue peace with the Palestinians allows Iran to gain worrying popularity in the region.
These statements are fairly significant, timed as they seem, to pressurise the new presidency of Benyamin Netanyahu to take a more progressive approach to the issue. That Obama’s new stance might offer change can be concluded from the reaction by AIPAC’s lobbying group. Letters have been written to both houses of Congress petitioning members to protect Israel’s privileged position as the superpower’s premier diplomatic ally. The content supports the relationship between the two states, claiming that the best proven pattern for progress has been to, ‘work closely and privately together.’ The suggestion is clearly that any future for the Palestinians should be brought about unilaterally without their interference. Within the House of Representatives this letter was circulated by not only the Republican whip, but also the Democrat Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Hoyer has been a long time supporter of the Jewish state, introducing various motions to the house during Bush’s presidency. In June 2004 he supported a Bipartisan motion on Israel which although stressing the need for a Palestinian state, again put the prerogative for establishing this firmly with Israel. All pressure was placed on the Palestinian side to, ‘cease all acts of violence and terror against Israel,’ while no similar commitment was required from the Israeli side. He praised the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, describing it as one of:
‘principle and conscience, of shared values and common aspirations, of peace and opportunity, and of a mutual commitment to freedom and democracy.’
Even whilst in the presidential opposition therefore, democratic support for Bush’s roadmap, and Sharon’s disengagement and repression of Hamas was prevalent up to the leadership of the party. That Obama failed to depart from this tradition in his AIPAC speech should have come as no suprise. What instead is perhaps surprising is the apparent rhetoric of ‘tough-love’ directed at Israel by Joe Biden.
The words that have gained the most attention have been those regarding the two-state solution and the issue of settlements. There appears to be a commitment in his words to a peaceful solution, if only to marginalise the role of Iran amongst Sunni Muslim in the Arab World. However, closer examination of the detail of the speech reveals that any hopes of a free and democratic Palestine emerging from this process should be tempered. In striking similarity to the allusions of Hoyer, Biden makes it clear that despite making requests on the Palestinian side to reduce violence and armaments, no similar requests are made to Israelis. Biden in fact assures the organisation that, “we will continue to provide Israel with the assistance it needs.” As if to leave no room for doubt as to the prerogative of Israel to govern the process he states that:
“We will continue to defend Israel’s right to defend itself and make its own judgments about what it needs to do to defend itself.”
Whilst it is an inalienable right that states should be able to defend themselves against external threats, that this same right is not extended to the Palestinian entity makes the distinction of allegiance clear. It should not be forgotten that the Palestinian Authority itself was the product of negotiations and pressure by the U.S. .The same limitations of Israel’s prerogative and its gatekeeper status which undermined the functioning of this institution will likely impact any future ‘progress’. Negotiation cannot take place unless both parties address each other on an equal level. Without such a basis the results will be weighted in favour of the more dominant side and will merely institutionalise resentment. The United States’ allegiance with Israel has historically prevented parity in negotiations and will continue to impair any peace initiatives. The dominance and infiltration which AIPAC wields, even across the Bipartisan divide is almost unparalleled. Its extensive economic support for election campaigns determines that successful candidates are often sympathetic to its concerns. Until this significance over U.S. politics diminishes, any apparent settlement of the Palestinian issue will continue to favour Israel to the detriment of peace and democracy.