Palestine - US Relations
The US administration under President Joe Biden pledged to change course in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The reinstatement of aid payments to the Palestinians, suspended under former US leader Donald Trump, marked the start. The United States will donate $150m to the United Nations Relief Society for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA), and $75m will be allocated for development projects in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced. Blinken emphasised the US vision for Israelis and Palestinians to live in “prosperity, security and freedom”. It was a paradigm shift compared with Trump’s tenure. During his election campaign, Biden reiterated his proclivity for a two-state solution and promised to reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington, DC, and the US consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinian affairs.
But Biden emphasised earlier he would neither reverse the Trump administration’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem nor Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights. The US president also took a stance against the pro-Palestine voice from the Democratic Party. Biden called the Trump-brokered normalisation agreements with Arab nations and the correlating abdication of the Palestinian cause a “historic breakthrough” and pledged to convince more countries in the region to sign similar deals.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s ambassador at the United Nations, pledged to “stand against the unfair singling out of Israel for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS), a movement that seeks to pressure Israel into adhering to international law. Thomas-Greenfield also stated BDS was borderline anti-Semitic.
Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, wrote September 15, 2017 "the regional and international circumstances are so adverse that it is almost impossible to conceive of a successful peace effort in the Middle East by any administration. The aging Abbas’s increasingly questionable staying power, coupled with internal Palestinian divisions between the PLO in the West Bank and Gaza-based Hamas, render it impossible to identify a single responsible Palestinian negotiator. On the Israeli side, the dominance of ultra-nationalists in Netanyahu’s government and the prime minister’s own ambivalence are equally as predictive of failure. The surrounding Arab world remains chaotic.... The entire Trump effort looks either hopelessly amateur or malevolently cynical."
Instead of doing everything possible to promote good governance within Palestinian political parties and institutions, the US propped up whoever would go through the negotiating motions, even if time and again he proved unwilling or unable to make peace.
In 1948 many Western European states and the British Commonwealth, remained distrustful of US policy with respect to Palestine. They saw US policy as oscillating between one based upon considerations of long-term interests in the Near and Middle East, and a policy deriving its force from the requirements of the domestic political situation. An ideal US policy on Palestine would seek to reconcile US long-term Near East interests, which may best be defined as keeping that area out of the Russian grasp, with domestic political considerations, namely the necessity for the administration not unduly to antagonize the Jewish minority in the US. The Arab League essentially was held together only by the Palestine issue.
While visiting Ramallah, West Bank, on March 21, 2013 President Obama said "The Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with it. Palestinians deserve to move and travel freely, and to feel secure in their communities. Like people everywhere, Palestinians deserve a future of hope -- that their rights will be respected, that tomorrow will be better than today and that they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity. Put simply, Palestinians deserve a state of their own."
On 19 July 2013 Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel agreed to meet and prepare for the resumption of talks. US Secretary of State John Kerry spent much of his first six months as secretary of state engaged in shuttle diplomacy, making six trips to the region in an effort to push Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas toward the resumption of talks. He stressed compromise in what was intended to be about nine months of intensive negotiations. The Palestinian resistance movement Hamas rejected the proposal made by Kerry for the resumption of talks between the two sides.
Palestinian leaders insisted stalled peace talks with Israel can move forward, arguing a unity pact between Fatah and Hamas is no obstacle to the negotiations. The two Palestinian factions in April 2014 agreed to form a power-sharing government, ending a bitter seven-year split that divided leadership between the West Bank and Gaza.
During the 9-month peace talks under the auspices of America, the Israeli government promoted plans and tenders for at least 13,851 housing units in West Bank and East Jerusalem, four times higher compared to the equivalent time of previous years, according to Israeli watchdog group Peace Now. Although an increasing number of Palestinians support two-state solution, 61 percent of them believe that it is no longer practical due to the settlement expansion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by formally ending the US-mediated talks, saying he would not negotiate with a government backed by Hamas, which Israel and the US view as a terrorist group. Unlike the West Bank-based Fatah, the Gaza-based Hamas Islamist group does not recognize Israel. It is committed to armed resistance against the Jewish state and regularly sends rockets across the border.
The United States, along with so many other international partners, remained committed to supporting the Palestinian people, including Palestinian women, in practical and effective ways. This deep interest in advancing humanitarian conditions of the Palestinians is clearly reflected in the ongoing support of vital programs that continue to break ground in integrating gender into the public reform and development process, and in creating environments to enable Palestinian women to advance and lead.
The United States is the largest bilateral donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The United States also contributes significant amounts to bilateral assistance and other UN programs providing assistance to Palestinian women and the entire Palestinian population.
The US remains deeply engaged regarding the situation in Gaza. The United States will continue to work with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and international partners to improve the lives of ordinary people. Hamas authorities have undertaken efforts to narrow women’s freedom of public appearance and movement, and that enforcement of “ethical” crimes in Gaza appear to be on an upward trend.
The United States continues to pursue a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution and an agreement that establishes a viable, independent, and contiguous state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel. The US is committed to working with the Quartet and regional states to return both parties to direct talks on the core issues that will resolve their differences and lead to an agreement that produces a just and lasting peace.
The United States continued to assist the PA’s counterterrorism efforts through programs that further strengthened the capacity of the PASF, primarily through training, equipping, and the provision of infrastructure to PA personnel in the West Bank. U.S.-funded training of PASF primarily took place at the Jordan International Police Training Center, and the PA’s Central Training Institute in Jericho. Concurrently, the United States continued to assist the larger PA criminal justice system to conduct more thorough investigations and prosecutions of terrorist related activity, among other criminal acts, and to ensure safe incarceration of those held for trial or after conviction of such crimes.
The lingering need for legitimacy within the international system and among the democratic voting bloc led President Barack Obama, to call settlement construction “unhelpful,” and to instruct his damage-control agents to announce that such building projects are "deeply troubling." But the simple fact is that the “space” of a so-called “Palestinian state” has constantly been shrinking amid the political choreography which has been a constant feature of “peace process” politics over the decades. In fact, neither the U.S. elite nor the liberal wing of the zionist elite, ever had the capacity or desire to challenge the settlement project.
Trump was something the United States had not seen for some time: an openly bigoted right-wing demagogue. Regarding the lingering specter of the two-state settlement, Jason Greenblatt, the co-chairman of his campaign’s Israel Advisory Committee, said, “It is certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activities should be condemned and that it is an obstacle for peace, because it is not an obstacle for peace.”
Trump advisers announced that they no longer considered it important to even symbolically nod at the international legal system. In a September meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump agreed to “finally accept the longstanding congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the state of Israel.” Most countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem in recognition of East Jerusalem’s occupied status under international law.
In December 2017 the Trump administration wielded its first U.N. veto to block a Security Council resolution rejecting the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there.
Donald Trump said the United States provided hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid "and get no appreciation or respect." The U.S. decision withholding tens of millions of dollars left the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) with the most critical financial situation it has ever faced. The United States is the agency's top donor, and on 16 January 2018 State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed to reporters that the Trump administration will withhold $65 million dollars from its initial 2018 contribution. Nauert said a $60 million tranche would be disbursed to avoid having a "negative impact."
The United States government announced 24 August 2018 a US$200 million cut to its financial aid budget for Palestine Friday, which was approved by Congress earlier in the year. The original Palestinian aid package for 2018 was US$250 million. An official of the country's State Department explained the decision was made by president Donald Trump and pointed to Hamas as the main reason for cutting back aid to the millions of refugees who live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. "At the direction of the president, we will redirect more than $200 million in Economic Support Funds originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza. Those funds will now address high-priority projects elsewhere," the official said. According to the official the decision was made after a review of U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which concluded the funds were not being spent in accordance with U.S. national interests and did not provide value to the U.S. taxpayer.
Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian General Delegation to the U.S. lamented the decision. “After Jerusalem and UNRWA, this is another confirmation of abandoning the two-state solution and fully embracing (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda,” he wrote. "The United States administration is demonstrating the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool," Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, of the Palestinian Liberation Organization responded to the news.
Trump’s Middle East adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner maintained "that ending the assistance outright could strengthen his negotiating hand when he introduces his long-awaited Middle East peace plan." The real goal for the Israelis, author and editor Jim Kavanagh told Sputnik in augsut 2018 is "for the Palestinians to disappear as Palestinians," a goal that resettlement would facilitate. "It's about unwinding UNRWA; it's about unwinding the Palestinians," he said on Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear. "They would become, in the Israeli imagination, Syrians and [Jordanians]. They want them to, now, disappear as a national entity and to become just citizens of the states that they're in, and those states then would have the responsibility to take care of them as their citizens."
The Trump Administration will announce that it rejects the long-standing Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for million of refugees and their descendants to Israel, an Israeli television report said 25 August 2018. The US will announce a policy that, “from its point of view, essentially cancels the ‘right of return,'” the report said. The “right of return” is one of the key core issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the Hadashot TV report, the US in early September would set out its policy on the issue. It will produce a report that says there are actually only some half-a-million Palestinians who should be legitimately considered refugees, and make plain that it rejects the UN designation under which the millions of descendants of the original refugees are also considered refugees. Jared Kushner had pushed to remove the refugee status of millions of Palestinians as part of an apparent effort to shutter UNRWA.
When the US announced 10 September 2018 it would be closing the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Washington, DC, offices, it did so under the aegis of forwarding the Trump administration’s peace plan for the Middle East. "[T]he PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," said US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in a statement Monday. "To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise."
But Richard Becker, author of "Palestine, Israel and the US Empire," told Radio Sputnik's By Any Means Necessary that there is "no question" US President Donald Trump and his administration are moving far away from any real negotiation, and proceeding to the imposition stage that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be pursuing. Just like Trump's announcement in December 2017 that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the "eternal capital of Israel," was justified as making peace talks easier by taking the city "off the table," Becker told hosts Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon that "this is one more step in what appears to be a plan to end Palestine, to bring about an end to Palestine altogether."
"... there might be an agreement with Gaza, in that the Israelis would like to make Gaza the center, and really only part of Palestine, that would get any kind of notion of sovereignty. So you can see that all of these different elements fit together, as I said before, in a plan to put an end to the Palestinian struggle," Becker said.
Led by President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, "deal of the century" to solve the long intractable Mideast conflict proposed raising more than $50 billion in fresh investment for the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors with major projects to boost infrastructure, education, tourism and cross-border trade. One proposal is for the construction of a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza. More than half of the $50 billion would be spent in the economically troubled Palestinian territories over 10 years while the rest would be split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Some $15bn would come from grants, $25bn in subsidised loans and about $11bn would come from private capital.
The promises of massive investment come months after the US Agency for International Development suspended its work in the Palestinian territories due to US legislation that makes US aid recipients liable to counterterrorism lawsuits. The Trump administration has also ended all funding to the UN agency that provides education, medicine, and food to Palestinian refugees and has taken a series of landmark decisions on behalf of Israel.
President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinians "will not be slaves or servants" of Jared Kushner or other Trump aides. "For America to turn the whole cause from a political issue into an economic one, we cannot accept this," he said. General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouti said that he believes it is not a deal designed "for peace" and instead would "legitimise the illegal annexation" of Jerusalem, the West Bank and of Golan Heights. "We cannot have economic development without being free," he added. Senior Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator and member of the executive committee of the PLO, said only a political solution that ended Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories would solve the conflict.
In Gaza, Hamas official Ismail Rudwan also rejected Kushner's proposals. "We reject the 'deal of the century' and all its dimensions, the economic, the political and the security dimensions," Rudwan told Reuters. "The issue of our Palestinian people is a nationalistic issue, it is the issue of a people who are seeking to be free from occupation. Palestine isn't for sale, and it is not an issue for bargaining. Palestine is sacred land and there is no option for the occupation except to leave," he said.
Since 1978, the Legal Adviser of the Department of State has regarded Israeli civilian settlements in the occupied territories as explicitly contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention. However, when President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he reversed that decision; Pompeo indicated the US was returning to the Reagan-era position. “There will never be a judicial resolution” to the conflict, Pompeo said 18 November 2019, noting it can only be solved by negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Pompeo announced the US would repudiate its previous legal opinion on the status of the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The US will no longer adopt a position on the legality of those settlements, breaking with the Obama administration’s decision that they did violate international law.
Under the Trump administration, four years radically changed the political landscape for Israelis and Palestinians. While the US has always been a huge backer of Israel – peddling the two-state solution line over the years, even as Israel continued to expropriate Palestinian land and build more settlements – Trump took this policy to new heights. He cut off US aid to the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, formally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. Trump refused to condemn settlement building and expansion as illegal – in defiance of international law. He also withdrew funding to the UN refugee agency, which millions of Palestinians depend on for education, food and livelihoods. Instead of a proposed Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital, Trump’s plan recognised Israeli sovereignty over major illegal settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian state would consist of cantons of non-contiguous land, and a capital in a suburb of occupied East Jerusalem. The Democratic Party 2020 platform stated "Democrats believe a strong, secure, and democratic Israel is vital to the interests of the United States. Our commitment to Israel’s security, its qualitative military edge, its right to defend itself, and the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding is ironclad.
"Democrats recognize the worth of every Israeli and every Palestinian. That’s why we will work to help bring to an end a conflict that has brought so much pain to so many. We support a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.
"Democrats oppose any unilateral steps by either side—including annexation—that undermine prospects for two states. Democrats will continue to stand against incitement and terror. We oppose settlement expansion. We believe that while Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths. Democrats will restore U.S.-Palestinian diplomatic ties and critical assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, consistent with U.S. law. We oppose any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech."
Biden initially opposed the US embassy move to Jerusalem, but has already stated he has no intention of moving it back to Tel Aviv. His administration plans to reopen the US consulate in occupied East Jerusalem to serve Palestinians, as well as the PLO’s mission in Washington, DC, which was shut down by the Trump administration. Biden said he will reverse the “destructive cut-off of diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority and cancellation of assistance programmes that support Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, economic development, and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza”.
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