Joe Biden's victory brings Palestinians a sigh of relief

PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS: While Palestinians are divided on Biden, the vast majority agrees the departure of Donald Trump is the best gift they could have hoped for.

THEN-US vice president Joe Biden gestures as he walks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after the two met in Ramallah in 2010. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
THEN-US vice president Joe Biden gestures as he walks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after the two met in Ramallah in 2010.
Is Joe Biden good or bad for the Palestinians? This is the question many Palestinians have been asking since the announcement that the Democratic presidential nominee has won the US election.
For now, it seems that while the Palestinians are divided on Biden, the vast majority agrees that the departure of US President Donald Trump and his administration is the best gift they could have hoped for.
The Palestinians’ longtime attitude toward US presidential elections was based on the claim that there is no real difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to the Israeli-Arab conflict. No matter who is sitting in the White House, the US will always be biased in favor of Israel, the Palestinians argued over the past five decades. “Two faces of the same coin” was the answer given by many Palestinians, when asked for their responses to previous US presidential elections.
But the past four years of the Trump administration have taught the Palestinians that there is a difference between one US president and another. For the first time, the Palestinians saw how a US president can be not only biased in favor of Israel, but also extremely hostile toward their leaders in particular and the Palestinian issue in general.
“Trump was the worst US president for the Palestinians,” a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post this week. “This is a president who fully endorsed the agenda of the right-wing parties in Israel and acted as if he was working for [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. He recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closed the PLO diplomatic mission in Washington, DC, halted financial aid to the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees, closed the US consulate in east Jerusalem and even ruled that settlements are not inconsistent with international law.”
According to the official, Trump’s plan for Mideast peace, “Peace to Prosperity,” also known as the “Deal of the Century,” was actually a Netanyahu plan that aimed to prevent the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
“This is probably the only time when the phrase ‘two faces of the same coin’ does not apply,” the official quipped.
Trump’s defeat in the presidential election is seen by the Palestinian leadership as a dream come true.
“The Trump administration was the most hostile administration toward the Palestinians,” another Palestinian official told the Post. “We know that Biden is also pro-Israel, but he can’t be worse than Trump and his Zionist advisers, especially [US Ambassador to Israel] David Friedman.”
Some Palestinians, nonetheless, do not seem to share the enthusiasm of the Palestinian leadership.
Munther Dajani, a professor of political science at Al-Quds University and member of the American Political Science Association, said that the Palestinians don’t expect much change under the Biden administration, because “the professionals are the ones who are making the decisions.”
But, he added, “the new president has the option to nominate new people around him. It all depends on who gets nominated to these positions as advisers, as National Security Council members and as cabinet members. We can’t predict if there will be a change in Biden’s policy toward the Palestinians until we know who his inner cabinet or inner kitchen will be.”
Dajani said he does not include himself among those who argue that Biden, if elected, would be much better, or if Trump were reelected it would be worse.
“That’s not the way it is, because even President Trump will change some of his inner cabinet and new people will come in,” he explained, adding that this would result in some changes, either for the better or the worse. “But from what I see, it couldn’t get any worse, because Trump has already done the worst to the peace process by dictating the Israeli position. He had closed the door for negotiations [between the Palestinians and Israel]. We will see if there will be any changes when the new president is elected.”
On the eve of the US election, Palestinian officials did not conceal their desire to see Trump defeated.
“The election is very important,” said PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh. God help us, the EU and the whole world if there are four more years of Trump.”
Shtayyeh’s statement reflected the general mood of the Palestinian leadership, which saw Trump as a major threat to the two-state solution and the Palestinian issue.
“Trump and Netanyahu sought to bury the two-state solution,” said Palestinian political analyst Wael al-Haj. “Now that Trump is gone, the two-state solution will be back on the table with the help of the Europeans and the rest of the international community. It seems that the Palestinian leadership has received assurances from the Biden entourage that the new US administration will revive the two-state solution and endorse a different policy toward the settlements.”
IN THE past week, the Palestinian leadership, which has been boycotting the US administration since December 2017 (when Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital), made it clear that the Palestinians are ready to renew their relations with Washington after Biden enters the White House.
A team of Palestinian officials has been set up with the task of establishing contact with Biden and his staff. The Palestinians, hoping that the first official meeting with representatives of the Biden administration would take place as early as February or March 2021, have prepared a list of demands for the White House.
The Palestinian leadership knows that the Biden administration would not be able to accept all their demands, but in Ramallah there is a certain degree of optimism regarding the future of relations with the US.
PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki said that the Palestinians are hoping that Biden would cancel the “anti-Palestinian” decisions taken by the Trump administration.
“We believe that the new US administration is opposed to settlements and believes in the two-state solution,” Malki added.
He also expressed hope that Trump’s “Deal of the Century” would also go away under the Biden administration.
Palestinian sources claimed this week that the Palestinian leadership has already received a number of “positive messages” from the Biden team regarding the future of US-Palestinian relations. The messages include, among other things, a promise to reopen the PLO diplomatic mission in the US and the resumption of US financial aid to the PA, the sources said.
“What’s certain is that a Biden administration won’t treat the Palestinians as an enemy, as the Trump administration did,” said Eyad al-Masri, a veteran official with the Palestinian ruling Fatah faction headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. “But while the Palestinians are happy that the Trump era is nearing its end, they are nevertheless cautiously optimistic about Biden. I personally don’t believe that Biden will cancel all the decisions of Trump. I don’t see Biden, for example, moving the US Embassy back to Tel Aviv. At this stage, there’s no need to exaggerate in rejoicing over Biden’s election.”
Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, however, are so thrilled about the defeat of Trump that they now seem to be turning over a new leaf.
Abbas’s decision this week to renew relations with Israel, including security coordination, is seen by Palestinians as a conciliatory message to Biden and a sign that the Palestinian leadership is eager to work with the new US administration. Abbas, in addition, has indicated his readiness to resume peace negotiations with Israel.
Abbas’s decision to restore ties with Israel surprised his rivals in Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who rushed to denounce the move, dubbing it a severe blow to efforts to achieve Palestinian national unity.
The decision was announced just as Fatah and Hamas leaders met in Cairo to discuss ways of ending their dispute and reaching agreement on holding long overdue elections for the PA presidency and parliament, the Palestine Legislative Council.
Hamas and PIJ had praised Abbas when he announced in May his decision to cut all relations with Israel and the US. Now, the two Iran-backed groups are condemning Abbas’s decision to restore security coordination with Israel.
The honeymoon between Abbas and Hamas, which began immediately after the May announcement, has clearly ended. The policies and decisions of the Trump administration drove Abbas closer to Hamas and PIJ, as well as their patrons in Turkey, Qatar and Iran. Now that Trump is on his way out of office, Abbas feels that this is the right time for him to restore his ties with the Americans and Israelis, even if that comes at the expense of Palestinian national unity.
Abbas was convinced that the Trump administration was working to remove him from power and pave the way for the emergence of new leaders who would be more open to accepting US and Israeli policies. At one stage, Palestinian officials were even talking about a US-Israeli-Arab “conspiracy” to replace Abbas with his archrival, deposed Fatah operative Mohammad Dahlan, who has been living in exile in the United Arab Emirates since 2011.
That’s why the 84-year-old Abbas heaved a sigh of relief when he heard that Biden had won the election. Abbas, according to one of his advisers, “can now go to sleep without worrying about American and Israeli plots to get rid of him.”