Nabil Amr
Palestinian writer and politician

Biden and a Palestinian-Israeli Settlement

Ballots with Biden’s name on them would have filled the boxes if some had been placed in Ramallah, provided that Palestinian Authority officials are the electorate.

On the popular level, on the other hand, celebrations were widespread, but because Donald Trump lost his seat at the Oval Office. For four years, the president, who is days away from “former” being added to his title, has been taking decisions that hit the Palestinians like a hurricane. If his term were to go on for another four years, they would have nothing left, that’s their assessment anyway.

The Authority’s bets on Biden being an improvement seem not only understandable but logical. Their bets are on Biden’s victory providing reasonable cover for the resumption of ties with the US administration, pumping money into Authority’s virtually empty coffers, and reopening the PLO’s Washington office and the US consulate in Jerusalem tasked with dealing with Palestinian affairs.

The new administration will also go back to talking about the two-state solution and repudiate unilateral actions like annexation. This course of action would be an extension of most administrations’ positions since Bush Senior took office and appointed James Baker, the man behind the 1991 Madrid Conference, Secretary of State. Indeed, this was the course taken until Obama’s last day in office, while Trump’s administration took a totally different path.

Even with the importance of what Palestinians may receive from Biden’s administration, they will not receive the things that seem to be much more damaging to them and their plans. Here, I am referring to a Biden recension of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and bringing the US embassy that embodies this recognition to Tel Aviv.

Biden’s position on this issue could be justified by the fact that his predecessor had passed it on. It could be said that it would be out of question to initiate a confrontation with Israel over what it had considered a historic achievement and had been seeking for decades. The Palestinians’ objections to this stance would persist, but reestablishing ties with the administration would not be tied to amending it as had been the case with Trump.

The Palestinians’ priority is that their central demand be met, not just by the American administration but by the whole world. They want a political settlement that satisfies them, or that the frames of reference for the settlement’s negotiations be totally different from the only one Trump adopted (the deal of the century). The Palestinians sum up their conditions with compliance to international resolutions. They prefer for either an international conference be set up for that purpose or a return to the Madrid Quartet’s mechanisms and frames of reference.

During a particular political period, even the Bush’s Republican administration sympathized with this Palestinian request and took a similar stance when it organized the first Annapolis Conference. However, Israel’s rejection and the US going back on this decision meant that the second conference, which was supposed to be held in Moscow, got canceled. “Who would give Moscow this precious privilege?”

What is past is past, and one cannot argue that putting these proposals back on the table is realistic. Here, it seems necessary to the question: is Biden’s administration concerned with putting forward a serious and just initiative that opens that door to a settlement, something that at least comes close to the Clinton administration’s push in this direction, or the kind of efforts made by the Bush Jr. or Obama administrations?

Would reaching such a settlement, in one way or another, be an urgent priority after the ferocious electoral battle against Trump and his policies imposed a new internal and external agenda?
In all likelihood, given that Biden has far more experience in dealing with Middle Eastern issues than his predecessor, especially regarding Israel-Palestine, he knows what it takes to reach a political agreement. From his own direct involvement, he is aware of the extent to which the Israelis are willing to enter negotiations within the frame Palestinians have committed to. This may have happened once, during the Rabin-Peres era, but it won’t happen during the Netanyahu-Benet era.

The Palestinians are equally unwilling to enter negotiations that disregard international resolutions.

Israel is not ready, and neither are the Palestinians. As for Mr. Biden, he seems less prepared than either of the two sides. The Palestinians will be satisfied with the consolation prizes on the margins of a settlement that the president-elect can give them.