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At a crossroads

Will the Biden administration return to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Hussein Haridy , Thursday 10 Dec 2020
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Chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas paid a visit to Cairo 30 November where he had a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The day before he met Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman. 

The two summit meetings came after the PA agreed to resume security cooperation with Israel earlier halted by the Palestinians. 

The main objective of the tour by Abbas was to discuss with the two Arab leaders the way forward in light of the election victory of President-elect Joe Biden and how Egypt and Jordan could help the Palestinians in reengaging with both the new US administration and the present Israeli government with the aim of resuming peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis that ended in April 2014 during the second Obama administration. 

The main obstacle and reason for the cessation of negotiations was Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank. On the other hand, how the three parties — Egypt, Jordan and the PA — could approach the future Biden administration on reviving the two-state solution and the best means to encourage the next US administration to readopt this solution.

The two summits were all the more necessary as well as significant in light of the normalisation of relations between Israel and other Arab countries without corresponding Israeli concessions as far as the Palestinian question is concerned.

In both Amman and Cairo, Abbas found listening ears and support for the PA. Moreover, the question of inter-Palestinian reconciliation was brought up. In the last two months Fatah, the main force within the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and Hamas had agreed on a roadmap to achieve such reconciliation with an agreement that Abbas, in his capacity as chairman of the PA, would call for presidential and legislative elections in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and in East Jerusalem as soon as conditions in the occupied territories and Gaza would allow.

The four years of President Trump in the White House have not advanced the cause of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Although the White House announced last January a peace plan to solve the Palestinian-Israeli question, the Palestinians and most Arabs have not been convinced that this was the best and only alternative to peace and security in the Middle East.

The best bet is that the Biden administration would not push hard for the implementation of the Trump peace plan. Given the national security team that President-elect Biden announced 10 days ago, the likelihood is that the United States will push for the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis with the help of the International Quartet that includes the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Working with the Quartet is a promising proposition inasmuch as all the parties that comprise it believe in the two-state solution, save the US during the Trump years at the White House.

Arab countries and leading European powers, which have traditionally played a significant role in promoting peace in the Middle East, whether in the southern tier of Europe or in the north, including Germany, could work together to advance the cause of peace in the region aided by the Biden administration. 

An example of such coordination took place in Amman on Thursday, 24 September. Jordan hosted a meeting that was attended by France and Germany, on the one hand, and Egypt and Jordan on the other. A representative of the European Union was also present. The meeting stressed the importance of the two-state solution as a means to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, it called for the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that should be “serious and effective”. Furthermore, the meeting rejected the idea of annexation as referred to in the Trump peace plan. In addition, the four countries and the European Union emphasised that settlements and the expropriation of Palestinian land and possessions are in violation of international law and undermine the two-state solution.

The interesting elements above could be a blueprint for a joint Arab-European Declaration or a joint declaration by the Arab League and the European Union to coincide with the official inauguration of the Biden administration next month.

It goes without saying that the Israeli government and political parties of the extreme right would do everything possible to undermine any genuine and serious moves by the Biden administration to push the two-state solution through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Accordingly, I was not surprised by the move in Israel to dissolve the Knesset in a first reading. If the Knesset finally adopts a law for its dissolution, then Israel will see its fourth general elections in less than two years. If dissolved, and the Israelis are called to elect a new Knesset, the odds are that the extreme right in Israel would gain more seats than it presently has. If this comes to pass and the present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is chosen for the sixth time to be premier, then we should expect a lot Israeli manoeuvring to forestall any serious American plan to advance the cause of peace in accordance with UN resolutions. Also, we should expect the Israeli government, whether the present one or any future one headed by Netanyahu, to overdramatise the “existential threat” that Iran of the Ayatollahs poses for Israel. With normalisation agreements between Israel and some Gulf countries, this time around the pressure on the new US administration would be greater than when Israel had acted alone in Washington circles during the Obama administration to block the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in July 2015 between the P5+1 and Iran concerning Iranian nuclear activities. As a matter of fact, President-elect Biden said last week that some Arab countries should join any new negotiations with Iran to revise the JCPOA.

The overall situation in the Middle East is quite complicated but a determined Biden administration with clear objectives and political determination could move things forward in order to stabilise the region. It will be a question of priorities and the hierarchy of interests that Washington will want to stress. The Palestinian-Israeli question should be on the American list of priorities in the Middle East. Positive American engagement in this regard could have an important impact on other issues related to peace and security in the Middle East.


*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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