The new administration in Washington isn’t wasting any time implementing its campaign promises. US President Joe Biden’s picks for key positions reflect the vow to reverse as many of his predecessor’s policies in the shortest amount of time.
One such appointee is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr. Amr’s first order of business has been to phone Palestinian officials.
Last weekend, he spoke with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Palestinian Intelligence director Majed Faraj.
According to Palestinian news outlets, Shtayyeh and Amr discussed moves by former US president Donald Trump that did not sit well with the powers-that-be in Ramallah and Gaza. These included the move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the closing of the PLO office in Washington and the severing of financial aid to the PA and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
On Monday, Amr called PA General Authority of Civil Affairs head Hussein al-Sheikh. Following their conversation, Sheikh tweeted: “We discussed bilateral relations, the latest current developments and politics. It was a positive conversation. [We] agreed to continue communication.”
Sheikh’s upbeat description is a mere taste of how happy the Palestinian leadership is about the changing of the guard in the White House and State Department.
PRACTICALLY FROM the moment that Trump assumed office in January 2017, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his lackeys realized that they were in for a rude awakening. The new sheriff in town was not buying their tired attempts at manipulation. As far as Trump and his team were concerned, the Palestinian victim card was no longer in the game, let alone cause for capitulation.
Not only did Trump and his adviser, Jared Kushner, shrug their shoulders when snubbed by Abbas, but they held fast to the message that if the Palestinian rulers wanted to engage in any fashion, they’d have to put up or shut up – to cease incentivizing terrorism and negotiate peace, not bargain for Israel’s destruction.
Abbas and his henchmen had heard all that before, of course, from American politicians of all stripes. But this time, the rhetoric was accompanied by concrete actions, one after the other, which pointed to a clear alliance with Israel. US behavior also indicated an intention to replace the false Middle East narrative – that no progress can be made on the peace front until the Palestinians establish an independent state – with the opposite approach.
The following timeline is illustrative.
Mere weeks after taking the helm, Trump welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. That was in mid-February.
In March, then-US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told the annual AIPAC conference that “the days of Israel-bashing at the UN are over.”
In May, Trump became the first acting US president to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
In September, former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman referred to Israel’s “alleged occupation” of Palestinian territories.
In early December, Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Later that month, he announced his decision to move the US Embassy there, calling it “a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”
In May 2018, on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment, the embassy in Jerusalem was inaugurated. Fuming, Abbas declared the US “unfit” to be an “honest broker” for Middle East peace.
In August, the Trump administration first cut $200 million in aid to the PA – on the grounds that it had been using the funds to finance its “pay for slay” scheme to reward terrorists – and a week later, announced that it would halt the transfer of money to UNRWA.
In September, the Trump administration closed the Palestinian mission in Washington – the PA’s de facto embassy – stating that the office “has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
In March 2019, Trump officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, signing the decree at the White House with Netanyahu at his side.
In November, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo told reporters that “the United States has concluded that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” adding, “Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn’t worked. It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”
At the end of January 2020, Trump unveiled his “peace to prosperity” plan – formerly dubbed the “deal of the century” – at the White House, alongside a beaming Netanyahu. Abbas had rejected the plan well beforehand, without knowing what it contained. Once its contents were revealed, he was even less inclined to accept it.
DETAILS OF the plan included Israel’s right to extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). They also involved provisions for massive US aid to the PA, as well as a future state, on condition that the Palestinians prove within four years that they had shunned violence and accepted Israel as the Jewish state.
In August, Trump, Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates announced the forging of a “full and formal peace between Israel and the UAE.”
The PA went ballistic, with spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh stating, “The Palestinian leadership rejects and denounces the UAE, Israeli and US trilateral, surprising announcement,” and calling the deal a “betrayal of Jerusalem, al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause.”
In September, Bahrain joined the UAE in signing the historic Abraham Accords with Israel at the White House. As part of the normalization deals, Netanyahu agreed to put the sovereignty issue on hold.
This did nothing to calm Abbas’s nerves. On the contrary, the PA promptly recalled its UAE ambassador and demanded that the Gulf state “immediately” renege on its agreement with Israel.
In October, Trump announced that Sudan was also making peace with Israel. In December, Morocco jumped on the peace bandwagon, as well.
This week, Kosovo did the same, under a Trump-brokered deal in September, making it the fifth Muslim-majority country to normalize ties with the Jewish state under Trump’s watch.
No wonder Abbas and his henchmen are so thrilled to see the Trump administration replaced with the kind of crew – and even some of the same players – who led the phony “peace process” conducted by former US president Barack Obama.
BUT, WHEREAS during Obama’s tenure, John Kerry was conducting the “shuttle diplomacy” that succeeded only in garnering the former secretary of state millions of frequent-flyer miles while upping the Palestinian ante, Biden has given the PA an even greater gift by handing the issue over to Amr.
A foreign-policy wonk with a history of blatant hostility to Israel and sympathy to Hamas, Amr is the author of “The Need to Communicate: How to Improve US Public Diplomacy with the Islamic World” and “The Opportunity of the Obama Era: How Civil Society Can Help Bridge Divides between the United States and a Diverse Muslim World,” published by the Brookings Institution, where he served as a non-resident senior fellow at its Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, and as founding director of its Doha Center in Qatar.
There is no doubt that he will be charged with reassuring the Palestinians that the US is no longer partial to Israel. Acting US Ambassador to the UN Richard Mills already said this week that funding to the PA would resume. Other steps at rapprochement between Washington and Ramallah – where Amr undoubtedly will be spending much of his time – are the reinstatement of payments to UNRWA and the reopening of the PLO mission.
Naturally, none of this will lead to what Mills called a “mutually agreed, two-state solution.”
In the first place, Abbas has never been interested in statehood; achieving it would make him instantly and utterly irrelevant on the world stage. Secondly, there is nothing that Israel has done in the past or can do in the future, other than disappear, to satisfy the honchos in Ramallah or Gaza.
The larger problem lies in the Biden administration’s return to the old “Middle East peace” paradigm that not only failed bitterly, but aided and abetted the Iranian regime to move full speed ahead with its nuclear program.
Amr and his ilk don’t mind, though. They, like the Palestinian radicals whom they believe in appeasing, are on the wrong side of history.