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At UN, Biden Administration Backs Separate State for Palestinians

By Margaret Besheer January 26, 2021

The acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has reaffirmed the Biden administration's commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and said it hopes to "slowly build" shattered confidence between the two sides.

"Under the new administration, the policy of the United States will be to support a mutually agreed two-state solution, one in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state," Ambassador Richard Mills told a high-level virtual meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday.

While acknowledging that this vision is "under serious stress," he said it remains the best solution. And he noted that "peace cannot be imposed on either the Israelis or the Palestinians."

One year ago this week, the Trump administration unveiled its much-anticipated Middle East peace plan. The Palestinians rejected it outright, saying it heavily favored Israel and did not give them a sovereign, contiguous state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Israelis welcomed the so-called "Deal of the Century," negotiated by a team led by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The Trump administration also moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, further angering the Palestinians. Biden criticized the move but has not said he would reverse it. During his campaign, he proposed opening a U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem to engage with the Palestinians.

The Biden administration also seeks "to restore credible U.S. engagement with Palestinians, as well as Israelis," Mills affirmed.

The Palestinians gave up on the United States as a mediator and peace broker during the Trump administration. Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told the meeting that the last four years "tested our collective resolve."

"Now is the time to heal and repair damage left by the previous U.S. administration," al-Malki said. "We look forward to the reversal of the unlawful and hostile measures undertaken by the Trump administration."

Biden plans to restore U.S. financial support for economic development and humanitarian aid programs that benefit the Palestinian people, as well as take steps to reopen diplomatic missions shut down in the last four years.

In September 2018, Trump ordered the Palestinian Liberation Organization's (PLO) Washington, D.C., office shuttered, saying the Palestinians had not taken steps to start negotiations with the Israelis.

"At the same time, I must be clear, the U.S. will maintain its steadfast support for Israel," Mills said.

Mills also cautioned both parties against unilateral steps that could make a two-state solution harder to achieve, including annexing territory, carrying out settlement activity, demolishing Palestinian homes, inciting violence, and providing compensation to persons imprisoned for acts of terrorism.

"We hope it will be possible to start working to slowly build confidence on both sides to create an environment in which we might once again be able to help advance a solution," he said.

"Israel has expressed time and again its willingness to negotiate and find a viable solution to the conflict," Israeli envoy Gilad Erdan said. "Israel has repeatedly demonstrated it will make peace when there is a willing partner."

The Trump administration also facilitated the normalization of relations between Israel with Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco and Sudan. Mills said the new administration would urge other countries to follow suit, but that these deals are not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

"It is the hope of the United States that normalization can proceed in a way that unlocks new possibilities to advance a two-state solution," he said.

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