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Does Biden come bearing gifts for the Palestinians?

November 9, 2020 at 9:59 am

US President-elect Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware, on 7 November 2020 [ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images]

Sources in Ramallah revealed recently that the Palestinian Authority maintained contact with Democratic US President-elect Joe Biden throughout his campaign. Direct communication channels were apparently established by a Palestinian American businessman. “We wanted to let Mr Biden know that we are willing and ready to talk,” explained one PA official.

The PA, of course, suspended its contacts with the Trump administration after the outgoing president closed the PLO office in Washington and recognised Jerusalem as the united capital of the occupation state of Israel in 2018. The situation deteriorated after Trump cut aid to Palestinian NGOs and UNRWA and announced his “deal of the century”, which the PA described as a “new Balfour Declaration”.

Since 2016, the US has been viewed as anything but an honest broker in the efforts to resolve the Palestine-Israel issue. Trump has been the US President arguably most openly biased towards Israel. The PA, therefore, will be pleased to see the US election result, but what can the Palestinians expect when President Biden is in the White House?

“Unlike any other American president, Trump supported the annexation of the occupied West Bank and was an absolute supporter of Israel,” political analyst Omar Jaara told me. “Hence, the PA is hoping to find in Biden a real partner to work with.”

READ: Biden’s victory to put Netanyahu in crisis

The President-elect, believes the PA, could be someone who will change US policy in Palestine-Israel and revive the two-state solution. Although discredited and regarded as dead in the water by many, such a solution envisions the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with some land swapped, along with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

According to Professor Abdul Sattar Qasim of Al-Najah University in the West Bank, though, the PA is “naïve and stupid” for believing that the only solution can be achieved through the US. “All American presidents have had absolute and unconditioned support for the Israeli occupation. Trump was not an odd one out; his approach was different, that’s all.”

Biden has already said that he will not move the US Embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem. As vice president in 2016, he helped Israel get the biggest-ever US aid package of $38 billion. His campaign stated repeatedly its “ironclad” support for Israel and condemned any effort to boycott the occupation state. He pledged not to use aid as a bargaining chip to force Israel into policy changes. Biden’s Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, told AIPAC that America’s commitment to Israel’s security “must be rock solid”.

Qasim also questioned Biden’s condemnation of Israel’s Trump-backed annexation of the West Bank. “Even without annexation, the West Bank is controlled by Israel. Annexation or no annexation, it will make no difference on the ground.”

While the PA puts some hope in the Democrat President-elect, it also knows that Republican Trump has overseen three “peace” deals between Israel and Arab countries. Democrat Jimmy Carter brokered one treaty between Israel and Egypt, and Democrat Bill Clinton put together one between Israel and Jordan.

READ: Palestinians happy with Trump’s election loss

The Egypt and Jordan treaties were much more beneficial for Israel than Trump’s deals, because it was in real conflict with its neighbouring states. Israel occupied Palestinian territories on their watch and signing treaties with them protected Israel from any possible future claims from Cairo and Amman on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The deals with the Gulf States and Sudan have no such benefit for Israel. Sudan is a poor country with no real impact on the geopolitics of the region, while the Gulf States have had strong, albeit back door, relations with Israel for decades. The Trump deals were rushed through for purely political purposes during the election campaign.

The PA, says Qasim, knows that the relationship with Biden is unlikely to be very different to relations with Trump. “Moreover, the PA does not want to change and move forward. If it did, the leadership would lose their privileges and money.” He reiterated his belief that their communications with Biden’s campaign are nonsense. “The PA, remember, encouraged and supported the late Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ campaign.”

Professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware, Muqtedar Khan, wrote that, “The US is Israel’s strongest ally.” He pointed out that every American president since 1973, whether Democrat or Republican, “has given substantial foreign aid and military technology to the Israelis and shielded Israel from international condemnation over its policies toward Palestinians.”

Nevertheless, Omar Jaara hailed the PA’s contact with Biden’s team for the simple reason that, “Any American president can curb Israeli aggression against the Palestinians and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” However, no matter who is in the White House, they favour Israel over Palestine and Israelis over Palestinians. “Biden,” he concludes, “does not come bearing any gifts for the Palestinians.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.