The US senate majority leader Chuck Schumer – a Democrat and the highest-ranking Jewish official in US history – has called for the removal of both Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, seeing both as representing the politics of the past.

In an incendiary intervention, Schumer – a longtime and stalwart supporter of Israel – told the Senate that the continuing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is testing US patience and that the lack of vision by both current Israeli and Palestinian leaders for the future beyond the war is also at variance with US policy.

Of the Israeli prime minister, he said: “Nobody expects Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the things that must be done to break the cycle of violence, to preserve his credibility on the world stage, to work to a two-state solution.”

Turning to Netanyahu’s counterpart in Ramallah, Schumer was equally forthright: “For there to be any hope of peace in the future, Abbas must step down and be replaced by a new generation of Palestinian leaders who will work towards attaining peace with a Jewish state.”

Reflecting on his fellow Democrat’s comments, US president Joe Biden said Schumer had made “a good speech”, adding that: “I think he expressed a serious concern shared not only by him, but by many Americans.”

Schumer’s speech came at the end of a week where Israeli and Palestinian politics showed how far away they are from the kind of change that Schumer rightly says is necessary.

Shifting factional politics has made Netanyahu’s position more secure. On March 12, Gideon Saar – a key powerbroker in the ruling coalition and an ally of Netanyahu’s biggest rival Benny Gantz – announced he was pulling out of his alliance with Gantz and demanded that Netanyahu appoint him to the war cabinet. This has weakened Gantz while strengthening Netanyahu’s position.

The last opinion poll taken before Saar’s announcement showed Gantz with a 12-point lead over Netanyahu and the opposition winning 74 seats out of the 120 Knesset seat if there were an election. But, with Saar’s change of allegiance, an election that could bring about the change that Schumer wants to see now appears further away.

Meanwhile, in Ramallah, the Palestinian president called on Muhammad Mustafa, a close associate, to be prime minister after the resignation of Mohammad Shtayyeh in February.

Washington had expressed the hope that Abbas would reach outside his circle and appoint a fresh face, maybe choosing a candidate from the next generation that could project the hope of a revitalised Palestinian Authority (PA). While Mustafa is two decades younger than Abbas, at 69 he hardly qualifies as someone who can relate to a Palestinian population with a median age is 21.9 years.

Schumer’s frustration with the regional politics reflects a long-held view in Washington. Many US presidents have found Benjamin Netanyahu difficult to deal with, going back to Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Even Donald Trump had problems with Netanyahu, as the then US president’s “deal of the century” provided for a Palestinian state – small and weak though it would have been.

Testing US support

The Biden administration had thought that its solidarity with Israel after the October 7 atrocities would at least give it some influence over Israel’s response.

It has provided significant financial and human resources to Israel over the past five months. It has been resupplying much-needed military equipment while providing a diplomatic safety net through its veto at the UN security council.

This has been backed by the assiduous efforts of US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to achieve a ceasefire and the return of the Israeli hostages. But Washington has watched in horror as its ally flattened Gaza and exacted a terrible civilian death toll.

Schumer is right when he says that Netanyahu’s alliance with Israel’s far-right is driving the country towards pariah status. The Gaza tragedy is accompanied by a vicious conflict in the occupied West Bank, which has seen a rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths as a result of both IDF action and settler violence. All of this is aimed at undermining any moves towards reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and a two-state solution.

Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat as the president of the PA on Arafat’s death in 2004. He won the election in 2005 but has not held elections since. His administration lacks legitimacy and is widely seen as corrupt.

The combination of inefficiency and corruption of the PA and the continuing inhumanities of more than five decades of Israeli occupation alienates many Palestinians from any idea of peaceful coexistence with Israel and increases the attractiveness of extremist views. Schumer is right that there are extremists on both sides who want the destruction of the other,

But the US administration and leaders like Schumer are unable to change the politics of either Israel or Palestine, all they can do is call for new leaders.

Indeed, some might argue that all this noise about replacing leaders of other countries not only smacks of colonialism but could have the opposite effect. Netanyahu and Abbas – who are both beleaguered at home – might find it useful to have a foreign adversary as a foil to shore up domestic support. Both will pose as defenders of the nation.

With conflict resolution, the challenge is to bring together leaders who are often deeply flawed and who advance reprehensible policies. If they weren’t so flawed and unable to see the other side’s point there would not be a conflict. Schumer has shone a light on the extremist politics in both Israel and Palestine. The political developments in both countries this week make the vision of a peaceful future look more difficult.

And that’s why the US and the international community need to rise to the challenge. Less rhetoric and more practical peacebuilding would be a good start.The Conversation

John Strawson, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of East London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.