The unprecedented bias shown by the administration of former US President “Donald Trump” in favor of Israel, and its violations of previous US commitments towards the Palestinians, and red lines set by Washington itself, such as Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders, and its failure to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, is no secret to anyone. Not only that, the Trump administration cut off the aid it had provided for decades to the Palestinians, moved its embassy in the occupied territories to Jerusalem, and gave the green light to proceed without stopping in the construction of Israeli settlements.
But since November 2020, the Palestinians began to breathe a sigh of relief with the announcement of the victory of “Joe Biden” in the American elections, as the new president made promises to the Palestinians in the context of his election campaign, which made the Palestinian leadership maintain high hopes that Biden would be more fair to their cause than his predecessor, and therefore Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not hesitate to be one of the first leaders to congratulate Biden after his victory.
Shortly after Biden’s inauguration, his administration announced that it would restore relations with the Palestinians and renew aid as part of efforts to restore momentum to a two-state solution, as a February policy memorandum titled “Resetting US-Palestinian Relations and the Way Forward” showed. Has the Biden administration fulfilled its pledges to the Palestinians? And how was the Palestinian issue in the first year of the new president in the White House?
Biden’s decisions and the hopes of the Palestinians
On the ground, the Palestinians felt some manifestations of American economic support for some institutions of the Palestinian Authority and civil society, and this came despite the continued arbitrary measures of the Israeli occupation against them, as the Jewish settlers increased their violence towards the Palestinians, while their government continued the settlement policy without stopping, demolishing homes and deporting Palestinians From the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and others.
The first American decisions that gave the Palestinians a great dose of hope came in March of last year (2021), when the Biden administration decided to grant $ 15 million to Palestinian organizations in the West Bank and Gaza to help combat the “Covid-19” pandemic. Then, a day after that decision, the administration notified Congress that it would give the Palestinians $75 million in economic support in order to restore Palestinian confidence that had fallen to its lowest levels under Trump.
Subsequently, the new US administration issued similar decisions, the most important of which was renewing its financial contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which was cut off by the Trump administration, as Biden refinanced UNRWA with more than $318 million in the 2021 fiscal year, within an agreement named Under the framework of cooperation, which states that “the United States will not make any contributions to UNRWA, unless UNRWA takes all feasible measures to ensure that no part of the US contribution is used to assist any refugee receiving military training.”
The administration has been denouncing settler violence toward Palestinians. The State Department’s annual report, dedicated to monitoring terrorism in various countries, focused more on settler violence than similar reports did during the Trump administration. Over the course of 2020, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented 771 settler violence incidents, resulting in the injury of 133 Palestinians and the damage to 9,646 trees and 184 vehicles, mostly in the Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablus and Ramallah areas.
In this context, Said Zaidani, a professor of political science at Al-Quds University, said in an interview with Meydan that there is a change in US policy toward the Palestinians and toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general, and the Biden administration, on its part, confirmed the United States’ commitment to the two-state solution, This is clear in all the statements and meetings that took place between US officials and their Palestinian counterparts, noting that there has been a change in the level of measures taken so far, from restoring support to the UNRWA, resuming aid to the Palestinian Authority and trying to clear the atmosphere that sour during Trump’s rule.
Zaidani added that there are two types of issues that the Biden administration has put on its agenda, the first of which is aid issues, whether for UNRWA or the Palestinian Authority or even the reopening of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization representative, and these are matters that the US administration can decide on its own, and it alone can confirm the necessity of commitment to a solution The two states. But on the other hand, there are issues that need the approval of the Israeli government, such as the resumption of political negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli parties under US or international sponsorship, and the reopening of the consulate serving the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Then Zedani, who resides in East Jerusalem, added: “These two other matters require a dialogue between the Palestinian and Israeli governments, and we know that there are differences between the two governments in this regard. The US administration can decide to open the consulate, but this will only be achieved with Israeli consent.”
Finally, Zaidani indicated that resuming negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis directly is more complex than all of the above, because the Israeli government does not have any vision or intention to resume negotiations on the issues of the final solution, which is something that the US administration itself is aware of and cannot change either.
Israel and the Typists Constrain the Hopes of the Palestinians
Since 1994, the American Consulate and the American diplomatic mission in Jerusalem have represented the most important symbol of international recognition of the Palestinian Authority, and so when the Trump administration wanted to aim its arrows at the authority to satisfy the Israeli extremist right led by Benjamin Netanyahu at the time, it did not hesitate to close that consulate in 2018. In doing so, it delivered a political and symbolic stab at the same time to Washington’s historic commitments to the Palestinian Authority, the Oslo process and the two-state solution. While that stone building, located a stone’s throw from the new US embassy in Israel, closed its doors, Palestinian hopes that East Jerusalem would be the capital of their future state, as Washington officials had pledged to them for decades, waned.
However, hopes have returned, albeit partially, since Biden took office, as the President of the White House promised from the first moments of his inauguration to reopen the American Consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas when he visited him in late May in Ramallah: “We will open a consulate in East Jerusalem as part of deepening relations with the Palestinians.” The Biden administration has not yet succeeded in implementing its promises due to the categorical Israeli refusal, as Biden still needs permission from the Israeli government in order to open the consulate building.
There is another thing that can be marketed when talking about what the Palestinians hope to obtain from the Biden administration, a year after it entered the White House, and it concerns the American position on the Arab normalization agreements with Israel, as the normalizing Arab countries have argued that they are developing their relations with Israel with the aim of bartering those Good relations in the future by resolving the outstanding Palestinian issues with the Israelis. It seems that Biden administration officials have the same conviction, as they appeared to be somewhat eager to promote the normalization agreements that Biden himself praised.
But so far, no impact of these agreements has been felt on the situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Rather, countries such as the UAE, the main Arab player in those agreements, are moving towards expanding trade relations and enhancing security cooperation with Israel without any regard for the Palestinian cause, and in general, nothing has been achieved. Progress – by the United States or other regional powers – in the course of negotiations with the Palestinians, with the exception of coordination carried out by Egypt during the recent Gaza war, and did not go beyond the ceasefire and defusing the fighting, without considering reviving the peace process in a more comprehensive way.
On the economic level, while it was claimed that the economic effects of normalization would extend to the Palestinians, as the occupation controls more than three million of them in the West Bank, and applies its economic siege to nearly two million other Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the Arab countries that normalized relations with Israel has little in this regard. In terms of easing military tension or defending Palestinians who face expulsion from their homes in East Jerusalem, an Israeli report indicated that “the record of normalization of Arab countries before the opening of official relations with Israel, and especially after that, only reinforced the impression that they are not interested in taking on a broader responsibility when It is related to the Palestinian-Israeli issue.”
Regarding the hopes of the Americans from the Arab normalization agreements with Israel on the level of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Zedani believes that American officials are keen to calm things down at the level of the Gaza Strip and to resume the reconstruction file, as well as to grant the necessary economic facilities to the Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as Palestinian workers inside Israel . Zaidani explains that “normalization from the US administration’s point of view helps with this, but the main issues related to the negotiations over the final solution are not expected to move next year, and the US administration is not expected to put pressure on the Israeli government, as it is a government that is unable to make any concessions.” Seriously, given their own arrangements. He added, “Normalization helps in the economic and social fields, facilitation and reconstruction, but it will not help in resuming serious negotiations on final status issues.”
Biden and Trump .. Is there a difference?
“All they were promised has evaporated, and they have not fulfilled any of their pledges,” said a Palestinian official, whose identity was hidden by the Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, and hinted that he represents a group of Palestinian officials frustrated by Biden’s promises to the Palestinian Authority. Some of these officials even described Biden’s policy toward Ramallah is no different from that of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
With the end of the first year of Biden’s rule, the Palestinians believe that the US president did not do enough to pressure Israel or end the biased policies pursued by the previous administration, and that he has reneged on most of his meaningful promises, or failed to implement them at best, the most important of which is the revival of the two-state solution Stop settlement and demolition, strengthen Palestinian autonomy, and suppress Jewish extremist violence. The PLO office in Washington has been closed since Trump decided to do so.
In fact, Biden faces a long list of international challenges that have prevented strategic breakthroughs, as Ayman Youssef, an assistant professor of political science and international relations at the Arab American University in Jenin, told us, as that administration has not yet appointed a representative of the peace process, although All the Democratic administrations from Clinton through Obama sent one. Youssef added: “So far, there is no envoy or direct contact between Biden and President Abbas, and although there are meetings at the ministerial level, all that is discussed are humanitarian, economic and service files, and so far that administration has not invited President Abbas to visit Washington.”
Youssef also referred to the influence of the Zionist lobby on Biden’s administration, and Biden’s preoccupation with pressing files in the Middle East, such as the Iranian file, which is still the main file in American interests, followed by files such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the relationship with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, adding: “The current administration is not strong, The personality of President Biden is moving with a lot of caution, as he is moving towards priorities and files that include the Chinese military build-up, the Russian threat to invade Ukraine, the consequences of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the Corona crisis, and all of this at the expense of the Palestinian cause, which has fallen back on the ladder of priorities.
As for the other factor that may have caused a change in the Biden administration’s position regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the peace process in particular, it is the arrival of a new government led by “Naftali Bennett” to power in Israel, and it is a fragile coalition government. Yousef said: “With a form of Forms of alliance between this government and the Biden administration, and the differences between Washington and Tel Aviv declining with Netanyahu’s departure, there is an American conviction that any pressure from the White House on the current Israeli government could lead to its failure and dismantling and to go to new elections in the occupying country, and perhaps even Netanyahu’s return to power, which is not something the Biden administration wants at this point.”
So, at a time when Biden is facing a long list of international challenges, Israel is benefiting from the policy of the status quo, taking advantage of the US president’s keenness not to stir up discord within its new government, and his preoccupation with international and regional issues that have become hotter than the Palestinian issue. Despite Biden’s “stated” desire to end or correct some of the extremist policies pursued by the previous administration that harmed the Palestinians, he did not take a step forward except in the file of humanitarian aid and financing the Palestinian Authority. As for the meaningful political steps for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and most importantly, in East Jerusalem, it remains out of reach, while the shadows of Trump’s heavy policies dominate the scene in this regard to this day.