Palestinians pin scant hope on Biden visit after setbacks under Trump

US President Joe Biden (AFP)

Nidal al-Mughrabi & Ali Sawafta

Reuters  /  July 1, 2022

RAMALLAH – As the United States strives to boost defence ties between Israel and Arab states, Palestinians await with increasing gloom the first visit of President Joe Biden after what they see as a string of broken promises by Washington.

Requests for the reopening of the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, closed by former President Donald Trump, or lifting the classification of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a terrorist organization have gone unheard, Palestinians say.

visit will achieve a political breakthrough. We will be listening to more pledges and promises,” a senior Palestinian official said. “This visit is about normalizing ties between Israel and Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia.”

Biden will visit Israel and the West Bank, meeting Israeli leaders and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Saudi Arabia from July 13-16.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs said Washington believed a two-state solution was the best way for both Israel and the Palestinians to resolve their generations-long conflict.

It was also committed to reopening the consulate, seen by Palestinians as an implicit recognition of East Jerusalem’s status as capital of a future Palestinian state on territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

In a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, Abbas urged the administration to put pressure on Israel to preserve the historic status quo in East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound there. Israel rejects allegations that it has tried to change the status quo.

Palestinians also say Israel’s continued settlement activities in the occupied West Bank dim any prospect for a viable Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel.

“Abbas told Blinken the situation can’t continue like this,” the official said.

Focus on Israeli-Arab ties

U.S. officials reject the assertion that the Biden administration has broken its pledges to the Palestinians and point to changes after the breakdown of relations under the administration of former President Donald Trump.

They say reopening the consulate would require Israeli cooperation and they that removing the PLO’s terrorist designation would require the Palestinian Authority to take steps it has so far failed to do.

Despite Palestinian disappointment, they say Biden has restarted aid and reopened lines of communication. The administration has also criticized Israeli settlement expansion as inconsistent with peace prospects, after the Trump administration signaled acceptance of such activities.

“Recall that we walked into a situation in which our ties with the Palestinians were totally severed (by the Trump administration). So we turned back on the funding, rebuilt relationships …. And there will be more to come,” a senior Biden administration official said.

But the intense focus on boosting security cooperation between Israel and U.S.-aligned Arab countries to confront a potential threat from Iran means that any move towards a wider resolution of the Palestinian issue remains far off, according to Talal Okal, a political analyst in Gaza.

“Biden will do nothing to change the existing reality,” he said. “There is no horizon for the Palestinian-Israel conflict.”

The Biden visit comes amid increasing speculation over the future of Abbas, an 86-year-old chain smoker with a history of health problems who has ruled by decree since 2005, when the last Palestinian election was held.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, received a boost last month when the European Union agreed to restore funding frozen by a dispute over school textbooks.

There has also been increased pressure on Israel, including from the Biden administration, for action on the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as she was covering an Israeli army raid in the West Bank town of Jenin.

But further progress has been complicated by the turmoil that saw Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition government collapse, with an election now scheduled for Nov. 1.

With an uncertain political road ahead, there is little likelihood of anything more than a minimum of U.S. economic aid for Palestinians, said political analyst Hani al-Masri.

“Hopes, if there were any, got washed away by the new changes in Israel, in the government and the parliament.”

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Matt Spetalnick in Washington Nidal Almughrabi reported from Gaza; writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Mark Heinrich