Biden's reset on the Palestine-Israel peace process

After four years of radical shake-up, America is reviving its traditional policies towards the conflict

TOPSHOT - Palestinians and Israeli activists trying to block Route 60, the main Jewish settler road in the West Bank, as a protest against the confiscation of Palestinian land, are dispersed by Israeli security forces on March 12, 2021 near the village of Yatta, south of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. / AFP / HAZEM BADER
Powered by automated translation

On Wednesday, The National obtained an official US document detailing the Biden administration’s plans for a "reset" in Washington’s approach to the Palestine-Israel peace process. Among its various elements, perhaps the most urgent is a commitment to $15 million in Covid-19 assistance to Palestinians, who, because of a lack of funding, have struggled to deal with the pandemic at all stages.

The document also signals how the US administration intends to rehabilitate the American, Palestinian and international preference for a two-state solution.

Realising a peace deal between Palestine and Israel was a major ambition of former president Donald Trump and his diplomatic strategy. It yielded mixed results. Mr Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”, backed by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, notionally supported a two-state solution, but at such great cost to the Palestinian side that it was nothing short of an affront.

The Abraham Accords between the UAE and Israel, negotiated with help from Washington, were a far more productive track. They were conditional upon Mr Netanyahu agreeing to discontinue his annexation plans, preserving the contours of a future Palestinian state. They also provide both the Palestinians and Israelis with a common, trusted Arab partner. Ultimately, success for Palestinians will depend most significantly on what the US, which influences Israeli affairs like no other power in the world, can do to convince Israeli leaders that Palestine’s interests must not be ignored.

One way to do that is to demonstrate how much they matter in Washington. Mr Biden’s plan includes reversing the closure of Palestinian diplomatic offices in the US and the American consulate in Jerusalem that served the Palestinians before its merger with a new embassy. It also involves restoring robust US financial assistance for UNRWA, the UN body that supports Palestinian refugees, and Palestinian government services.

Mr Biden will also raise the issue of illegal Israeli settlements in territories on Palestinian land. This is one of the most contentious issues, and the seriousness with which Mr Biden approaches it will set the tone for the direction he wants the peace process to take.

There are other obstacles, too. Israel is currently trapped in a political quagmire, set to hold its fourth set of elections in two years. Without legislative stability in Tel Aviv, constructive dialogue with Palestine remains elusive.

In May, Palestinians will be participating in their own elections, the first in 15 years. Much of the country's youth have never before cast a ballot. The current leadership is viewed by many as bungling and incapable of standing up for its people, and hampered by a 2007 split between the militant party of Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Fatah, which rules the West Bank. While any Palestinian government will continue to be hamstrung so long as there is no sovereign Palestinian state, a new political process could be the moment a new generation of Palestinians asserts its voice.

The document detailing Mr Biden’s “reset” for Palestine suggests that his administration is putting Palestinian dignity back at the front of its regional diplomatic strategy. That is the correct approach, and it will right many wrongs. For it to really succeed, however, Israelis and Palestinians themselves, whether in peace talks or at the ballot box, must be committed to doing the same.