How will the Biden administration impact Palestinians?
U.S. State Department officials are communicating with top Palestinian Authority officials – for the first time in years.
The Biden administration has also promised the resumption of aid to the Palestinian Authority, humanitarian aid to Palestinians, and efforts to reopen the PLO office in Washington which Trump ordered closed in 2018.
In another 180 from the Trump era, the Biden administration opposes Israeli settlements and destruction of Palestinian homes, acts that are considered illegal under international law.
But one thing the new administration won’t do, is reverse course on having the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
Trump moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018, an act seen as antagonistic to Palestinians who view East Jerusalem as the capital of their state.
New U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the embassy will remain in Jerusalem.
But the U.S. will reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem to allow for diplomatic relations with Palestinian leaders, he added.
In his confirmation hearings last month, Blinken also affirmed that the U.S. will continue to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Palestinian leaders have since called for Biden to recognize East Jerusalem as occupied territory and the capital of Palestine.
Blinken supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – but has said that prospects for near-term negotiations toward that end are not favorable.
The Biden Administration hasn’t yet named a new ambassador to Israel, but the nominee will likely differ significantly from Trump’s appointee David Friedman who emphatically supported Israeli settlements.
Also a factor are Israeli legislative elections in March. Polls have shown that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party will likely remain the largest party, followed by the far-right Yamina party. It will be Israel’s fourth election in two years.
One thing in Netanyahu’s favor is Trump’s brokering of the normalization of ties between Israel and the U.A.E., Sudan, Morocco, and Bahrain during his term.
As part of the deals, Netanyahu agreed not to pursue Israeli annexation in parts of the West Bank – for the time being, while U.S. diplomatic favors, fighter jet and arms sales were promised to the Arab nations.
In a move to show Palestinian solidarity and possibly gain favor with Biden, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has promised to hold presidential and parliamentary elections this year, the first in 15 years.
But Palestinians are still wary. Biden has had friendly ties with Netanyahu for decades and has long pledged his support for Israel.
And he made his continuing support for Israel clear during his presidential campaign, in one conference call to donors saying, “My commitment to Israel is unshakable… As president, I’m going to continue our security assistance under the historic memorandum of understanding that we signed together in 2016 and maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
Some Palestinian leaders believe there will be little difference between the Biden and Trump.
“The difference between Trump and the new president is no more than some tactics. Both have the same established foreign policy towards Israel and the Arabs,” said Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, an Imam at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and former Grand Mufti of Palestine.
One move that raised eyebrows: On January 20th, the day Biden was inaugurated, the Twitter account for the “U.S. Ambassador to Israel” was briefly changed to the “U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”
Many Palestinians heralded the change which seemed to recognize Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories.
But just a few hours later, it was changed back to “U.S. Ambassador to Israel” alone.
1/ As Biden takes over, the US Ambassador to Israel's Twitter account quickly changed to include Palestinian territories. From "Ambassador to Israel" to "Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza." No immediate comment yet from US Embassy or State Dept to clarify the change. https://t.co/pTHYMIHczi
— Daniel Estrin (@DanielEstrin) January 20, 2021
The U.S. Embassy in Israel told a reporter it was an “inadvertent edit, and not reflective of a policy change.”