When former US President Barack Obama delivered his famous speech at Cairo University in 2009, he said, “So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn its backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”
His speech came a few months after a brutal Israeli offensive, “Operation Cast Lead”, which killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians, among them entire families. The war started days after Obama’s election victory which saw Joe Biden become US Vice President, and continued for more than a month.
Follow his inauguration, the Palestinian leadership was optimistic that Obama would take a different stance to that of his Republican predecessor George W Bush. In 2011, Obama made it clear that, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements… It is time for these settlements to stop.”
When, in November 2012, the Israeli occupation forces launched another military offensive against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, the diplomacy of the late Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was able to end the aggression. Obama sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the region and a ceasefire was agreed.
This Israeli war was launched a couple of months after the Obama administration pledged to veto any Palestinian statehood bid, arguing that it could endorse the move if it only came through direct negotiations with Israel, not through the UN. Eventually, in 2016 Obama was able to abstain on a UN resolution demanding an end to illegal Israeli settlements; this was one of his last acts as president. An “audacious” abstention crowned a series of concessions that Obama made during his two terms in office.
Biden was elected with a mandate to address priorities such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the polarisation within American society, health care and other domestic challenges. As far as his foreign policy will be concerned, he inherits a turbulent legacy from Donald Trump, who pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran; downsized his military operations and troops in Iraq and Syria; cemented his relations with autocratic leaders and monarchs; displayed total bias towards Israel; and utterly alienated the Palestinian leadership and people.President-elect Biden and his Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are both staunch Zionists, despite their diplomatic proclamations that they “believe in the worth and value of every Palestinian and every Israeli and we will work to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and democracy.” That’s very similar to Obama’s statements that turned out to be tired clichés to tickle the emotions of Arabs and Muslims.
Harris’s speech to AIPAC in 2017 revealed that the first resolution she co-sponsored as a US Senator was to combat alleged anti-Israel bias at the UN and reaffirm that Washington seeks a just, secure and sustainable two-state solution. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the incoming administration will embrace Israel and maintain its hegemony in the Middle East. Biden won’t be able to freeze let alone dismantle Israel’s illegal settlements.
He could, though, try to placate the Palestinian leadership by reopening the PLO office in Washington that was closed by Trump, and overturn the decision to end US aid to organisations delivering critical humanitarian relief and essential services to the Palestinians, such as UNRWA. However, he won’t be relocating the US Embassy back to Tel Aviv. Although he said that it “should not have been moved”, it is where it is now, and won’t be moved back.
Biden’s inauguration might cast a shadow on the internal Palestinian reconciliation efforts. In an earlier article, I argued that with Biden in the White House, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas might reconsider his rapprochement with Hamas.
Trump’s policy to ostracise the Palestinian leadership left Abbas with little choice but to embark on talks with his rivals. Promising talks were held by Fatah and Hamas in Qatar and Lebanon, but one eye was always fixed on the US election.
The Palestinians have now reached a point where elections of their own will provide an opportunity to refresh a weary and aging leadership. Unfortunately, this aspiration may not materialise because Abbas put the talks on hold weeks ago; the possibility of them being revived are slim with Biden heading for the White House.
Neither official nor popular Palestinian voices are counting on a strategic change in US policy on Palestine. PLO Executive Committee member Dr Hanan Ashrawi said that, “The most important thing is to get rid of Trump and the danger he poses.” Yet, she too has reaffirmed that Biden won’t defend Palestinian rights.
It’s a well-established fact that no US president can afford to adopt a progressive policy towards Israel, even if he wants to, simply because the president is bound to dance to the tune of the pro-Israel Lobby. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have destroyed the long-standing paradigm of the two-state solution, and it would be delusional for the incoming administration to try to revive and promote it to the Palestinian leadership. Israel’s annexation plan for swathes of Palestinian territory is the final nail in the two-states’ coffin.
Having a Democrat US president instead of a Republican will not change the fact that Israel will be allowed to continue with its colonisation of Palestine and impose its apartheid policies. Biden won’t be able to stop the illegal settlers from attacking Palestinian villages, uprooting olive trees and burning down houses and crops (and sometimes killing people in the process). Nor will he be able to stop Israeli bulldozers from levelling hundreds of Palestinian homes and infrastructure, and the confiscation of farms and land.
President-elect Joe Biden has nothing of substance to offer the Palestinians; the Israeli government and its Lobby will make sure of that. So will he be cast in Obama’s image? Not really; we can expect him to be even worse. Biden might be better than Trump, but that doesn’t really take much doing, does it?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.