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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 8 March 2021

Former Palestinian prime minister calls for 'fundamental reset' in Biden's approach to peace talks

Salam Fayyad says Palestinians must build partnerships with key Arab players to strengthen position in negotiations

Palestinians stand by the rubble of buildings demolished by Jerusalem municipality workers, reportedly built without an Israeli construction permit, in East Jerusalem, February 22, 2021.  AFP 
Palestinians stand by the rubble of buildings demolished by Jerusalem municipality workers, reportedly built without an Israeli construction permit, in East Jerusalem, February 22, 2021.  AFP 

Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad on Monday called on the Biden administration to fundamentally reset its approach to the Middle East peace process.

And Mr Fayyad urged the Palestinian Authority to “establish partnerships with key Arab players in negotiations".

He told the Brookings Institute that deep-rooted problems in the peace process were present before the Trump administration pursued unilateral policies that favoured Israel.

“The so-called peace process had got to a dead end before Donald Trump showed up,” Mr Fayyad said.

He urged the Biden administration to reverse some of the Trump-era policies by acknowledging the illegality of West Bank settlements and reopening the Jerusalem consulate for the Palestinians.

And Mr Fayyad said recommitting to the two-state solution was critical for the Biden team.

“What is really needed is not only a restoration of norms but a reset," he said.

Mr Fayyad also called on Israel to recognise Palestine's right to statehood.

“What we need before the launching of yet another round of negotiations that can promise nothing but failure is a statement of recognition of our national rights as a people," he said.

"Are we an 'invented people' or are we a people?”

Mr Fayyad was referring to former Republican house leader Newt Gingrich, who used the term to describe the Palestinians in 2011.

But the former World Bank economist recognised the problems among the Palestinians that would weaken their position in any negotiations.

He called for Palestinian unity and reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas before holding elections.

Failure to do so would only extend the current situation and the split between the West Bank and Gaza, Mr Fayyad said.

Mr Fayyad called on the Biden administration to pressure Israel into allowing the full participation of Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem in any elections that would result from a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

He said that since the Oslo Accords in 1995, the negotiating process has taken a “race to the bottom”.

“The talk of a two-state solution has no constituency any more, not because people reject the idea but because they don't see how it can happen," Mr Fayyad said.

"They question the adequacy of the framework to give rise to that.”

Rushing into negotiations without such a framework would be “a recipe for disaster that could lead to destabilisation", he said.

Co-ordinating with Arab partners, especially Jordan and Egypt, is another prerequisite, he said.

“We want to go beyond statements to establish partnerships with key Arab players about the negotiations,” Mr Fayyad said.

He called the Arab dimension “hugely important … and we need to operationalise it".

The Biden administration has not given priority to a return to the peace process for now, but it has reversed a Trump policy on cutting aid to the Palestinians and contact with the Palestinian Authority was established this month.

The newly appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for Palestine and Israel, Hady Amr, also established contact with the Palestinian Authority and has spoken to Civil Affairs Commission chairman Hussein Al Sheikh.

Communication between the Palestinian Authority and the Trump administration ended in 2018 after he moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mr Biden has not yet called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, but held a nearly one-hour call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.

Updated: February 23, 2021 04:04 PM

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