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Opinion | The One Thing Biden Needs to Know About the Palestinians

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As U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to visit Israel and Palestine, America’s policy towards the conflict is mired in contradiction. His trip is a test of U.S. intentions towards the Palestinians. While the Democratic president has declared his commitment to two states, there is deep skepticism that he will take any concrete steps to push that policy forward.

It would be ominous for the peace and security of our region if the Biden administration lets yet another window for opportunity pass by. Given the current international environment, such chances are rare and will only get more difficult or even impossible. Yet the U.S. role remains critical. The White House should be reminded that both Palestinians and their allies in the Middle East strongly believe political change can only happen with American engagement, and pressure on Israel.

In various times and places, it’s been argued that the best way to secure cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is to build up results gradually over time, based on trust and proving serious intentions. This “strategy of prudence” has been a complete failure. For decades it has had no success either in solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, building trust or showing the seriousness of the U.S. administration. It would be foolish for Biden to push the repeat button.

Jerusalem is one of the core issues in the conflict. In order to jolt potential peacemaking back to lived reality and to his own declared principles, Biden should grab this issue and take a concrete stand: To re-open the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, closed by President Trump, that had been dedicated to Palestinian affairs.

The reopening of the consulate would be a substantial and symbolic act: Restoring the focus of the historic relationship between the U.S. and the Palestinian people dating back to 1844, and respecting the Palestinian right to self-determination, rather than treating Palestinians as just a minority, a core fallacy that has been normalized since the Balfour declaration.

Donald Trump ended the work of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem that had dealt with the Palestinians for more than 177 years. The consulate’s activities were diplomatic proof that the city did not belong to Israelis or Jews alone. Back in 1844, John Tyler, the tenth president, appointed the first American Consul in Jerusalem, to consolidate Palestinian-American relations. It therefore existed before the Basel conference which decided to establish the Zionist state.

Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and downgraded the consulate to a “unit” under the embassy’s mandate. In the wake of Trump’s decision, Palestinians boycotted his administration.

Palestinian-American relations revived again with Biden’s arrival in the White House, in the hope of correcting the damage his predecessor had caused, just as the Biden administration did in fact go on to reverse many of Trump’s egregious decisions, from Mexico to Europe, Iran, Yemen and Afghanistan. The consulate closure was particularly grievous for having violated signed peace agreements, international law, the Geneva Conventions and UN Security Council resolutions that preserve human rights within the 1967 borders.

The fate of the consulate has been a test of the Biden administration’s actual commitment to Palestinian rights ever since.

When Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited in May 2021, he publicly promised Palestinians that the administration was committed to reopening the Jerusalem consulate. A year has passed, but there have been endless deferments, on the pretext of not rocking the boat of the (non-Netanyahu) Israeli government: from passing the state budget to, now, the transition of (caretaker) power from Naftali Bennett to Yair Lapid. There has been just one small linguistic move: In June 2022 the “Palestinian Affairs Unit” inside the embassy became the “Office of Palestinian Affairs.”

For Palestinians, these are all endless excuses. If the Biden administration is really serious, it should stop procrastinating and start putting facts on the ground, by re-opening the historic consulate – and the PLO representative office in Washington D.C. Surely the country that grants Israel $3.8 billion in annual military aid, Israel’s first and foremost financier, can use its leverage to open its own consulate?

But American procrastination has long been a boon for Israel and a curse for Palestinians. Procrastination has led to enormous settlement growth, forced displacements and evictions, field executions, and the empowerment of the Israeli apartheid system at the expense of the Palestinian political and human rights. Not only that, the Trump administration facilitated the ongoing de facto annexation of Jerusalem and worked to transform and reframe the conflict into a religious war.

At the same time, there is plenty of optimistic talk about a new Middle East, based on peace, trust and a sustainable economy, and with Biden likely to celebrate the Abraham Accords on his trip with news about the potential accession of more participants. The Accords are an example of extreme pragmatism, but they will never gain strategic status as long as their normalization process excludes one of the primary parties to the conflict.

Before he arrives in Palestine, Biden would do well to remember the high hopes that the Palestinian people had invested in him: celebrating his success in the elections, hoping to witness a correction of Trump’s illegitimate and illegal decisions. From Sheikh Jarrah to Silwan, Gaza to Jenin, from Shireen Abu Akleh to settler violence, we Palestinians are being shattered into many traumas, and many stories that are too often understood by the outside world as disconnected from each other.

That is where the force of Biden declaring he will reverse Trump’s decision and re-open the Jerusalem consulate comes from. It is a statement that there is one occupation, one Palestinian people, and one overwhelming need: to end the occupation of the Palestinian people. It is a statement that the long-recognized State of Israel should have, at long last, identifiable borders. It is a statement that the transactional pragmatism of the Abraham Accords, without including the Palestinians, can never bring true peace to the region.

And if Biden can’t make that statement, perhaps the U.S. should stop pretending it advocates for the two-state solution, as Israel is already entrenching a one state reality with the tools and policy of documented apartheid.

Dalal Iriqat is Assistant Professor of Diplomacy and Strategic Planning, College of Graduate Studies, Arab American University. Twitter: @ DalalIRIQAT

Article link:
Article source: Haaretz | Dalal Iriqat | Jul 10, 2022

2024-02-22 05:36:48.000000

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