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Nothing has changed in US policy, so why is the PA building links with Biden?

February 8, 2021 at 11:45 am

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with former US President Donald Trump in New York City, US on 3 May 2017 [Thaer Ghanaim/Apaimages]

On 6 December 2017, the then US President Donald Trump formally recognised the Palestinian city of Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation state of Israel: “Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital:” He then relocated the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City.

Following Trump’s decision, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended contacts with Washington. The relationship soured, and Trump closed the PLO office in the US capital and stopped donations for several essential aid programmes in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the annual donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

When it became obvious that Joe Biden was heading for the White House, PA and PLO officials started to contact people in his team to express their readiness to resume contacts with the new administration post-inauguration. Last week, PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh confirmed to his cabinet that this had been done. He has spoken with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs, Hadi Amro, and discussed the opening of diplomatic and consular offices, as well as the resumption of US aid, support for UNRWA, and pushing forward the peace process. However, it seems that the Biden administration is unwilling to backtrack from the strategic US goals achieved during Trump’s time in office.

The issue of Jerusalem and the relocation of the US Embassy was approved by the US Senate in 1996. Trump made it clear when he announced US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital that this was not a change in US policy. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” he explained. In all but name, the US had already been dealing with Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for decades.

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The US Senate duly voted (97-3) to retain Trump’s decisions. “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and I am proud to introduce legislation to protect the US Embassy from relocation or being downgraded,” said Senator Jim Inhofe. Future US administrations are unable to change the new reality unless new legislation is passed.

The Biden administration accepted the result of this vote. Senator Ted Cruz asked the new Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “Do you agree that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and do you commit that the United States will keep our embassy in Jerusalem?” Blinken replied: “Yes and yes.”

The PA suspended its contacts with the Trump administration largely because of this issue. If the new administration is following the same policy, why is it planning to develop its contacts with Biden and his team?

Like it or not, Biden stands for Israel and its colonialism. His administration’s stance on the issue of the International Criminal Court investigating alleged war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas in the occupied Palestinian territories is a prime example of this.

The US has made it very clear that it will protect Israel and its war criminals against any possible prosecution despite the clear-cut evidence that Israel has been violating international law and committing war crimes against the Palestinians for decades, not only during the 2014 military offensive against civilians in the Gaza Strip and the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The ICC Chief Prosecutor has said that the court will investigate them as well.

Trump sanctions ICC to protect Israel - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Trump sanctions ICC to protect Israel – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

According to a spokesperson of the US State Department, Ned Price: “The United States objects to today’s International Criminal Court decision regarding the Palestinian situation. We will continue to uphold President Biden’s strong commitment to Israel and its security, including opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.” It is worth noting that the US has praised the justice of the ICC several times when it was prosecuting non-Israeli officials. A formal statement from the US State Department confirmed that “We have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.”

The Biden administration has already announced that it is going to stop any support for the Saudi Arabian-led war in Yemen. And yet, despite hints that aid is to be resumed for the Palestinians, including through UNRWA, nothing has been done. Why the procrastination?

It is clear that there’s going to be no change in US support and protection for Israel and no change in the status of Jerusalem. All of the evidence suggests that there will be very little difference, if any at all, between the Trump and Biden administrations when it comes to Palestine-Israel. Why, then, is the PA determined to build links with the latter when it cut them with the former? Nothing of any note has changed. Perhaps Prime Minister Shtayyeh would like to explain the reasoning at his next cabinet meeting.

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