Palestinians hope that incoming U.S. president Joe Biden will reverse some of the Trump Administration’s decisions they view as unfairly biased against them, but few believe he will go far toward fulfilling their national and political aspirations.
The Palestinian leadership expects, however, that the Democrat will at least discontinue the “extremist policies” of his Republican predecessor, which harmed their cause and led to a breakdown in Palestinian-American relations.
Prof. Ali Jarbawi, of the Faculty of Political Science at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, and a former Palestinian Authority higher education minister, says that all Trump administration decisions concerning Palestine were important, and some might be changed.
Biden has made it clear that he will not move the U.S. Embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv, Jarbawi says, but adds: “Regarding the other decisions, given that Biden opposed the annexation [of parts of the West Bank] and other related issues, his new administration might be able to amend [the U.S. stance concerning those matters].”
The new administration might reopen the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem that had been accredited to the Palestinians, he says.
“The Jerusalem decision [recognizing the city as part of Israel] will not be changed, but other decisions might be reversed,” Jarbawi says.
Prof. Mansour El-Kikhia, a Libyan-American author and columnist who chairs the Department of Political Science and Geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio, says the new administration would leave in place decisions the Trump Administration made “against the Palestinians.”
He says the evangelicals who supported President Donald Trump have lost influence due to the electoral victory of President-elect Biden, who will likely adhere more closely to the imperatives of international law.
“The Israeli government and Israel also exerted excessive influence on U.S. policy during the Trump Administration, to the chagrin of many U.S. observers,” he says.
This does not mean, El-Kikhia says, that Biden will be free to do whatever he wants in the Middle East, as Israel and American Jews still exert tremendous influence in the U.S.
“But we will see a toning down of Trump’s unlimited support for whatever Israel wants or does. We will also see a resumption of U.S. aid to the Palestinians,” he says.
“How much? That will depend on whether the Democrats take the Senate or not."
The January 5 runoff election for the two U.S. Senate seats from Georgia will determine which party controls the chamber for the next two years. If the Democrats win both seats, the Senate will be split 50-50, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be able to cast tie-breaking votes when necessary.
El-Kikhia believes Biden will be very cautious.
“Even those [American] Jews who want peace with Palestinians and advocate for a Palestinian state won’t be that magnanimous,” he said.
Nabil Shaath, a senior adviser on international relations to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, says that Palestinians should not be overly optimistic, as the traditional American position has always supported Israel – although no new president could be worse than Trump.
“I expect a measure of balance in U.S. policy and a return to the traditional American positions of supporting the peace process and the two-state solution,” Shaath says.
“The new administration might approve the reopening of the Palestinian embassy [PLO office] in Washington,” he says. “In addition, it may resume aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees [UNRWA].”
In August 2018, the Trump Administration ceased its contributions to UNRWA, dropping $300 million in annual aid seven months after it froze about $65 million, causing a major financial crisis for the agency.
Also in August 2018, the U.S. cut off all direct aid to the PA except for security assistance intended for training and equipment – which was terminated in February 2019.
The U.S. closed the PLO office in Washington in September 2018, but by then, the Palestinian ambassador, Husam Zomlot, had already been recalled to Ramallah. Prior to this, the PLO’s bank accounts were closed.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in November 2019 that the U.S. no longer considered Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be “contrary to international law.”
Shaath stressed that some of those decisions could be amended, but not the decision recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the embassy move.
“However, all of this depends on the Arab position and our ability to move this position forward,” Shaath says.
“The current Arab position is very weak. We have never faced a weaker Arab position than now. Perhaps the removal of Trump’s influence on our region will allow our Arab brothers to play a more positive role toward our cause,” he says.
Palestinian, Arab and American institutions are preparing to submit requests to the incoming administration by the end of the month, demanding it reverse the Trump Administration’s decisions regarding the place of birth in American passports as well as the labeling of goods produced in settlements.
Article written by Dima Abumaria. Reprinted courtesy of The Media Line.