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Biannual Newsletter - Eighth Edition
Eighth Edition
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The Constitution
Introductory Bulletin
The Constitution - Introductory Bulletin
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Date posted: November 25, 2020
By MIFTAH

Introduction:

Political pundits say the recent US presidential elections and Democratic candidate Joe Bidenís victory, will have repercussions on the relationship of the new US administration with both Palestinians and Israelis. They also say these results will generate tangible changes to US policies, to the Biden administrationís international relations and to domestic American affairs. The observers predict that the Biden administration will shift priorities in handling several domestic and foreign files, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Dr. Ghassan Khatib: radical change

Birzeit University lecturer Dr. Ghassan Khatib says: ďI think the results of the US elections will lead to tangible changes in American policies and in Americaís international relations, not to mention at the domestic level. The reason for this is that the previous administration under President Donald Trump made unprecedented alterations to US policies, especially at the international policy level. Hence, the gap between the two parties in the elections has never been as wide as this time, which means any new party in power also means new changes. So far, they have already announced many of the changes to be made, including that the new administration will return to the climate deal, which the previous administration withdrew from, and that they would improve relations with their European allies. Other than that, there is the Middle East. This new administration has already said it would reverse some of the policies taken by the previous administration, meaning it will go back to traditional US policies in many aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict.Ē

Reflections and repercussions

Khatib continues, ďI think some changes will be relatively fast, which is why I also think the new administration, if we are to go by its statements, will resume aid to the Palestinian people and possibly to UNRWA. This is important because it will encourage other countries to resume financial aid. There were countries that halted their own aid to the Palestinians because of pressure from the Americans. Whatís more, the Americans may reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem, which has symbolic significance. Most importantly is that the Democratic Party and Biden both feel strongly about the two-state solution which means we can expect them to be critical, even if only verbally, against Israeli settlement expansion. This will put a measure of international pressure on Israel regarding settlements because during the Trump era, these countries were prevented from expressing any criticism towards settlement expansion. On the contrary, the US ambassador to Israel used to encourage it and confirm that the United States has no problem with expanding settlements. This of course, weakened the international position opposing settlement expansion. The political process, on the other hand, is more complicated because the US administration was managing the conflict rather than trying to solve it. This is because everyone concluded that the possibility of resolving the conflict was too hard so they resorted to trying to finalize it completely in Israelís interests. I expect the new administration will also return to managing the conflict rather than resolving it. While on the surface, this may not look very good or enough, it is still better than the Trump administrationís vision for resolving the conflict completely in Israelís favor, otherwise known as the Ďdeal of the century.Ē

The leadershipís options

Dr. Khatib says: ďIn my opinion, the American elections are an important shift in international policies towards the Palestinian question. These elections could hold within them opportunities and challenges, which really will depend on the Palestinian performance and the extent of the Palestiniansí internal cohesiveness and strength. It will also ultimately depend on how clever they manage the political file pertaining to their relationship with the United States. If our position is strong, smart and cohesive, we may be able to avoid some inevitable pitfalls that come with reopening the political process. This is somewhat concerning, because right now, the internal Palestinian situation and our style of managing political action and issues is not reassuring at all. Hence, it is the perfect occasion to call on the Palestinian leadership to maintain cohesiveness, unity and confidence in itself and in the people and also to assume wise approaches in dealing with these new changes given their importance.Ē

Reconciliation and elections

In response to the question about the fate of Palestinian reconciliation and holding elections, Khatib says: ďAnyone who falsely believed over the past few months that reconciliation was possible and elections could be held will realize the connection between the failure to hold these elections and achieve reconciliation with developments in the United States. The truth of the matter however, is that we were never close to elections or reconciliation regardless of whatever happened, not to mention the external, regional factors pertaining to influences from regional powers on both sides of the rift. That is why I donít think the US elections outcome will have any impact on our internal situation. As for external files, it does not look good, for internal reasons rather than because of the United States.

Arab normalization with Israel

In terms of the recent wave of normalization between Israel and Arab countries and how they may impact the recent elections, Khatib commented: the second Middle East file where we will see changes to US policies is the Gulf because the Democratic Party running the administration has a different approach for dealing with the Iranian file and this will reflect itself on the relationship of the United States with the Gulf. In my assessment, part of the change is that the new US administration will not be as enthusiastic towards the issue of normalization. While it will surely support normalization, there will not be the same amount of pressure to achieve it like before. This is why I think the pace will slow and this wave will end, especially since the next country the US was hoping to prompt into normalization Ė Saudi Arabia Ė is very hesitant and fears the potential backlash in the region. Hence, the retreat of American pressure towards normalization will be comfortable for Saudi Arabia, which was never excited about moving in this direction since it strives to lead the Muslim world.

The ďdeal of the centuryĒ and annexation

One of the most positive paradoxes to the US elections is that throughout it, Bidenís campaign announced it would not support annexation because it weakens the chances of a two-state solution in the future. I would like to note here that the elections divided the Jewish community in the United States. Public opinion polls on the US elections showed that two-thirds of American Jews voted for Biden because of domestic issues and because they were concerned about the racist atmosphere Trump propagated. The second reason is that there is a sense of anxiety and conviction among the majority in the American-Jewish community that Netanyahuís and Trumpís policies are moving in the direction of total control over all the Palestinian territories in a way that would block any chance for a two-state solution and would constitute a threat to the democratic and Jewish nature of the state of Israel. This is concerning for the overwhelming majority of American Jews who by nature, are interested in a democratic and Jewish Israel more than they are interested in the annexation of occupied Palestinian land.

The Biden administration and its relationship with the Palestinians

ďWe will see a return to American policies similar to the pre-Trump era, which are neither fair nor friendly to the Palestinian people. They are biased to Israel and harmful to our interests but this administration will be less pronounced than the Trump administration in this bias.

Khalil Shaheen

Khalil Shaheen, political analyst, researcher and media expert, said this about the US elections: ďThe rise of ďTrumpismĒ has been accompanied by transformations at the global level, which are also related to the rise of right-wing populism in many countries. Trumpís victory constituted a strong motive for the rise of populism and its intersection with the rising populism in Israel, clearly represented in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the right wing. This caused considerable damage to the Palestinian cause and to the rights of the Palestinian people, especially since Trumpís populism intersected with the most far-right religious and ideological camps inside Israel and overall adopted the Zionist narrative.

Transformations from Trumpís defeat

From another aspect, Shahin says, ďIt is not certain that Trumpís defeat will constitute a turning point or prompt a retreat of populism, whether in the United States or at the international level. What is certain is his defeat will have reverberations even outside of the United States, especially in some countries that populism fed on in tandem with the rise of Trumpís populism. I think we need more time before we can tell whether Bidenís win will constitute transformation regarding a retreat in right-wing populism including core values within it that impinge on the rights of the Palestinian people: that is, denial of international law and international humanitarian law and UN resolutions since populist trends are, by nature, contradictory to human rights. This means that the restoration of another ruling trend in the United States could mean at least a slight reconsideration that this new US administration will deal with international law and international humanitarian law in addition to the UN and its agencies. Some indications of this were apparent in Bidenís statements when he said for example that he would not take a hostile position towards UNRWA and that he would resume American support to the agency. To many, this is an indicator of how the Democrats deal with international institutions, which is applicable to some other international arenas such as its position towards the Human Rights Council, from which the US also withdrew. At the time, the US took several hostile positions towards HRC resolutions pertaining to the Palestinian cause and rights. This trend could be extended into transformations in UNESCO and other agencies and these policies, if adopted, could constitute a shift away from the methods of the Trump administration, which waged war on the rights of the Palestinian people in the various international arenas and forums.

The Palestinian leadership and the relationship with the Biden administration

Shahin believes we must take a step back until the relationship becomes clearer between the leadership and the Biden administration. ďI think we need more time until we see just what policies the new US President will adopt in terms of its foreign policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict including normalization between Israel and some Arab countries or the Trump administrationís actions regarding efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A big part of the Palestiniansí policy is going to depend on the behavior and policy of the new American administration. That is why I donít think we need to start by offering more concessions, which the leadership thinks it can use to appease the Biden administration. This means we need to hold off until the new administrationís policies mature on several important junctures, including its position on the implications of the Ďdeal of the centuryí rather than the deal itself. The deal will be pushed aside as a framework for a dictated solution on the Palestinians; it no longer exists. However, there are some implications of the deal that are being implemented such as the Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, the position on refugees, the nature of the Palestinian state, its jurisdictions and the level of sovereignty it will have, in addition to settlements, all of which are important issues. If the new administration adopts the policies of the previous Obama administration, for example, we can conclude Ė especially since there are already signs of this in Bidenís statements Ė that it will take a position opposed to settlement expansion but will not actually take measures to reverse the previous approach of further entrenching settlements. Still, even this position requires us to hold off. We donít know how Israel and Netanyahu will behave vis-ŗ-vis the annexation process before Trump leaves the White House. In other words, there are Israeli positions pushing for tangible steps if not full annexation or at least the imposition of Israeli law or sovereignty over West Bank settlements. Their hope is that this would be a final parting gift from Trump before he leaves office.

We will see how Biden deals with all this Ė will he consider settlements to be a reality on the ground? Or will he plan to take executive decisions down the line to cancel out the decisions made by Trump in this regard? These are all important questions because they will have an impact on the positions of the Palestinian leadership and the possibility of restarting any Palestinian-Israeli political process.

The two-state solution

Shahin believes the new US administrationís interests regarding the two-state solution will revolve around slogans. ďI think the new administration will most likely be interested in the slogan of the two-state solution but not its implications like the previous administration. Still, it will be keen on relaunching this process between Palestinians and Israelis so as to avoid more confrontation on the ground, especially if Netanyahu takes more steps to entrench settlements and annexation. Nonetheless, this will not be a priority for the administration. There are more pressing domestic ones, especially pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic in addition to other issues such as the relationship with China and Europe and the climate, which the Democrats promised they would move on quickly. This means the new US administration may wait for a while before resuming efforts between Palestinians and Israelis but my guess is that it will be more interested in managing the conflict rather than resolving it given the wide gaps between the Palestinian and Israelis positions. We could be seeing a form of the conventional negotiations conducted by former US Secretary of State John Kerry Ė that is, shuttle trips between the two sides.

Regarding Palestinian reconciliation, there were efforts to resume bilateral dialogue between Fatah and Hamas in addition to the meeting of the secretary generals of factions. It seems however, this file hit a speedbump, partly because they were waiting for the results of the US election. That is, will the Democrats once again return to a containment policy of Islamic trends, particularly the moderates and the existing groups in the Middle East? Will this apply to Hamas? Previous administrations, including the Obama administration, adopted this policy, but when it came to the Palestinian-Palestinian issue and because of Israelís position, they used to constantly push for maintaining the conditions of the Quartet Committee, which placed conditions on Hamasí participation in the Palestinian political system. This is important from the perspective that launching a political processóat least from the viewpoint of President Abbas Ė requires that he is portrayed as having political or negotiating legitimacy, if you will. And if no political process is launched, he at least would need a renewal of his legitimacy as a President whose term expired some time ago. The PLC would also need revamping in a way that would allow it to wage a political process with Israel with consensus on its legitimacy. I think this needs time as well to see how the new Biden administration will handle the issue of Palestinian reconciliation or Hamasí participation in the political system, in elections and other issues.

On this note, I think the Palestinian leadership is leaning more towards resuming relations with the United States. This was clear from the congratulatory letter President Abbas sent to Biden, the gist of which was the presidentís hope of resuming the peace process without specifying terms or conditions. It was a short letter but it reflected the Presidentís interest in a future political process, which will manifest in different ways. That is, soon we will see mutual measures between the Palestinians and Americans that start with the resumption of contacts, something that may have already begun; we will see a reopening of the PLO office in Washington and a PLO envoy there; a decision to reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem; a resumption of financial aid to the PA; a resumption of USAID projects in the Palestinian territories in addition to UNRWA. The Americans may get to these issues quickly as opposed to the peace process, which need executive measures by Biden, such as cancelling previous decisions made by Trump for which he has a majority at least in Congress. Hence, he does not need to pass new bills to make these decisions. Likewise, Biden can also make decisions on the laws passed during Trumpís administration, which impose restrictions on funding to the PA.

In any case, this means we will be returning to the same place in terms of diplomatic, political, economic and security contacts with the United States. The question is how this will reflect on Palestinian-Israeli relations. I think in exchange, the new US administration will be keen on restoring the Palestiniansí relationship with Israel, even if gradually.

Dr. Honaida Ghanim

Dr. Honaida Ghanim, director of the Palestinian Center for Israeli Studies ďMadarĒ had this to say about the US elections: ďThe election results coincided with the release of Madarís most recent position paper, which was based on analysis of the development of these elections and the results of opinion polls conducted here and in the United States. Recently, several opinion polls were conducted in Israel addressing the difference between Trump and Biden. The results showed that over 70% of respondents support Trump and consider him Israelís best friend. We think that if the elections were held in Israel, Trump would most likely have won by a landslide. In the United States, 20% Jewish Americans voted for Trump. Hence, the first repercussions are linked to this gap between American and Israeli Jews, whereby the second group claims they represent the first even though only 5% of American Jews consider Israel as their number one cause. Therefore, the outcomes of these tectonic shifts may not necessarily show today but they can be built on in the future in order to impact American policies towards Israel.

Ghanim also says there are issues related to strategic matters. ďAmerica deals with Israel as a strategic ally, which means this is not about ďmood swingsĒ but about a persistent strategic alliance. Still, these shifts that are taking place beneath the surface will have a future impact on relations between the two sides; they will also impact strategic relations which do not change overnight. Still, the changes do not indicate any profound changes in terms of Israel remaining the USís strategic ally in the region even if the relationship will not be the same as before. This relationship will gradually move into a discussion within the Democratic Party, which is a shift that greatly concerns Israel.

Impact on the Israeli political party scene

Ghanim believes the US elections will have an impact on the political party scene in Israel. ďThe impact will basically be moral support in that the possibility of Netanyahuís defeat is plausible and achievable as long as everyone in the US came together to bring down Trump, which they succeeded in doing. This could be moral support. Also, it could allow more maneuvering room for parties in opposition to Netanyahu so they can rebuild themselves. Today, there is a bully-like alliance between ďTrumpist/Netanyahu-ismĒ and populism in Europe, India and Brazil, which could also have an impact on the Israeli scene. However, the most dangerous repercussion is that the rising star on the Israeli scene is [Neftali] Bennetís star, meaning that the political conflict in Israel is not between the right and left but between trends that are already right wing. There is obviously a huge shift in Israel towards the right, which means Netanyahu will try and go over and beyond it to the more extremist trends. The presence of Bennet means the propaganda he will use will be based on whoever is more extreme. Whatís more, the main topic at the core of this competition between Netanyahu and Bennet will not be the coronavirus pandemic but the topic of annexation. This will turn into a key topic at the heart of the internal conflict between the right for which the Palestinians will pay the price. Meanwhile, confronting these extremist steps Israel takes against the Palestinians depends on how the new US administration reacts to them.

How Palestinians can employ the election results There are a lot of ways in which the Palestinians can employ the US election results vis-ŗ-vis their relationship with the Israelis, says Ghanim. ďThe election results proved the elections were between the white supremacist trend and other trends and groups such as minorities, blacks and women. This reaffirms the need for Palestinians to work at the grassroots level with these groups and movements in the US and Europe in general because the future is there, in this popular, grassroots relationship. Today, we have fertile ground to work with them and not necessarily with official circles because these circles are mostly impacted by their popular bases. The election results showed that Biden was supported by these groups and that the Democratic Party is no longer one bloc but several blocs combined. Hence, communicating with these blocs requires Palestinian diplomacy and formulating plans and organized action. It also needs the right discourse because we are at a dangerous crossroads in the United States; we donít know which way things will go. It could take a horrifying turn but if we take into consideration that things really are going in that direction, we still have a lot of room for Palestinian action right now.

The fate of the political process

Meanwhile, Ghanim said the statements made by Blue-White Party leader, Benny Gantz and official spokesperson for the Palestinian presidency, Nabil Abu Rudeina, calling for a return to Palestinian negotiations is nothing more than public consumption. ďOn what basis will the two parties return to negotiations?Ē she asks. ďWill they go back to dragging the Palestinians into 20 more years of negotiations that will end with the Palestinians living in isolated cantons like they are today? Or will there be new foundations for them? Or will there be a return to the same deceptive power formula Netanyahu employed before with the Palestinians, which he deems is the best way to eliminate the Palestinian cause. If the wager is on shifts in the Israeli arena, the Palestinians are betting on a losing horse. Therefore, any negotiations must have a new structure through adopting a new strategy as a bases for these talks. In addition, the Palestinians must speed up getting their house in order, including the situation of Palestinian institutions and the political system. Anything other than this is merely empty words.

Local and global repercussions

Ghanim also believes the US election results have reflected on the overall situation in the world, not just on Israel and the Palestinians even if the part pertaining to the Palestinians inside the Green Line and their relationship with the government in Israel are afforded a special analysis.

ďI am one of those people who says there is a huge difference between a death sentence and being sentenced to life. A death sentence means you are finished, which is what Trump was trying to do to the Palestinian cause. Right now, we are living a life sentence with the occupation but we have time to rebuild ourselves; the question is how to take advantage of this. Of course, this will have an impact on the Palestinians inside [the í48 territories], with the knowledge that these changes produced by the US elections and the Democrats winning the presidency, are far-reaching changes. At the level of the refugee cause, the restoration of funds to UNRWA and the US rejoining the climate agreements which Trump pulled out from will all have an impact, but not anytime soon. Also, if we do not initiate the change, we will not feel it; we are the ones that must change the tools for maneuvering rather than wait to see what happens in the United States. What happened with Trump should be a big lesson to us, which is that we must build up ourselves and have internal strength, which is the basis for our strategic core.

Arab normalization

In regards to Arab normalization with Israel, Ghanem says: ďWe used to have strong Arab consensus and support [around our cause] but this has started to wane. For Palestinians, this is a big loss. The slogan that always said there would be no peace unless it is first achieved with the Palestinians and then with the Arabs, has been turned upside down. What is happening today only further weakens the Palestinians and will have very dangerous repercussions. Whatís worse, not only is the UAE normalizing with official Israel but also with the settlers, which means it has gone over and beyond even the red lines set by the EU. We are facing a new and confusing scenario because building any relationship with regimes is like betting on a losing horse. The first wager should have been on the peoples; what happened in the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan is proof of this.

Note: The content of this interview does not reflect the official opinion of MIFTAH. Responsibility of the information and views expressed in the interview lies entirely with the interviewee.

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