In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower was firm in his belief that Britain, France and Israel were wrong to pounce on Egypt over Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal. The three countries were compelled, owing to the US leader's displeasure, to call a halt to their adventurism.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter brought Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together in a summit that resulted in the Camp David agreement.
In 1995, President Bill Clinton oversaw a summit between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a meeting which boosted the chances of peace in the Middle East.
The tempo inaugurated by the three US Presidents in question has in recent times been frittered away. President Donald Trump, in clear ignorance of history and oblivious to global opinion, followed through on his predecessors' belief that Jerusalem, a city occupied by Israeli forces during the 1967 Six-Day War, should be the capital of the state of Israel.
In these present times, for all his insistence that multilateralism is back in America's approach to the world, President Joe Biden has clearly not been measuring up to his own standards as Benjamin Netanyahu and his military have been pounding away at Gaza. For the seventh day till Sunday, Israeli air attacks on Gaza left as many as 181 Palestinians, 47 of them children, dead. Homes and offices have been reduced to rubble. And Netanyahu, in defiance of morality, has kept on promising more of the same for Gazans.
The encouragement comes of course from Biden. "Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory." That presidential statement not only flies in the face of reality, the other side of it, but is indicative of the rather pusillanimous attitude the new administration in Washington has adopted toward Israel in the conflict in Palestine.
Neither Biden nor Secretary of State Antony Blinken has taken note of the factors which have led to the current crisis. Neither man has expressed any sympathy for the deaths of Palestinians through Israeli air attacks. Neither has condemned the murder of Palestinian adults and children. Neither man has reached out to the Hamas, for Hamas remains for Washington a terrorist organisation. Neither Biden nor Blinken sees the terror which the state of Israel has unleashed in Gaza.
The Biden administration has portrayed a degree of firmness when the matter has been one of confronting China on the Uyghur problem. It has been harsh with Putin's Russia over Ukraine; and it has been proper in its acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide in 1915. Surprisingly, indeed outrageously, that firmness is missing where dealing with Israel's militaristic approach to Palestinians is concerned. Note has hardly been taken in Washington of conditions as they have developed in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, where efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes were the spark to the crisis that now exercises minds around the world. Antony Blinken has glibly, and in what seems like an embarrassing ignorance of realities, spoken of Hamas as "a terrorist organization targeting civilians" and of Israel "targeting the terrorists."
It is lopsided diplomacy the Biden administration has brought into its assessment of the Gaza situation. Its efforts to prevent the United Nations Security Council from meeting, until it was forced to give way on Sunday, was a reflection of diplomacy that was yet to recover from the chaos of the Trump-Pompeo years. President Biden has in the four months since he took office said nothing about illegal Jewish settlements in occupied Arab territory. Today, when he needs to say something, he is not willing to hurt Israel's sentiments.
This failure on the part of the United States to exercise forceful diplomacy in the Middle East in light of the Gaza crisis has unsurprisingly left governments everywhere but especially in the West disturbed, if not downright outraged. Of course, the US is right to condemn the Hamas for its missile attacks inside Israel. Everyone does, but when Israel's response to the Hamas attacks is hugely disproportionate, that calls for a greater degree of condemnation. Israel has, through its targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders and activists as also the murder of innocent civilians over the years, earned the world's opprobrium. But successive administrations in Washington have looked away from the atrocities Israel's leaders have committed.
Antony Blinken has spoken of America's continuing belief in a two-state solution in the Middle East. That raises some fundamental questions. Given the pummeling Gaza has been under, given the rise of the far-right in Israeli politics, given the military strength (and nuclear capability) Israel possesses, what form of Palestine does Washington envisage? Back in the old days, in apartheid South Africa, it was a concept of Bantustans the white racists in Pretoria tried to promote. It did not work.
If now the two-state concept in the Middle East is essentially aimed at creating a Palestine that will have no more than a capital and a flag, that will not have the wherewithal which defines a modern state, it will be a misnomer. And speaking of the capital of a future Palestine, if it ever comes to pass, there is Jerusalem, under occupation and which Israel has held in usurpation since 1967. Keeping it under occupation would be in contempt of morality and international law.
Washington does not seem ready to make a decisive move at the UNSC, other than being willing to help the two sides talk peace whenever they are ready. That is an abdication of diplomatic responsibility, when, in the words of Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, the Israelis are picking off one family at a time and one neighbourhood at a time in Gaza. For Washington to stay silent here is to condone usurpation and illegality on Tel Aviv's part.
The eviction or threat of eviction of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem is an incitement to increased Israeli seizure of Palestinian property. The armed assault by Israeli security on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem goes beyond the bounds of decent behaviour. The targeted destruction of buildings in Gaza is nothing short of terrorism on the part of Netanyahu's Israel. And, as Amnesty International would have the International Criminal Court investigate, the killing of children in Gaza is a war crime. Indeed, the nightly air raids on Gaza are war crimes.
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson envisioned America as "the light which will shine unto all generations and guide the feet of mankind to the goal of justice and liberty and peace." That was moral diplomacy at work.
President Joe Biden would do well to reflect on the wisdom that guided his illustrious predecessor in the early years of the last century. And take lessons from it.