From Trump to Biden: Israel/Palestine

November 16, 2020

The Trump administration will come to an end on the 20th of January when Joe Biden is sworn in as the new US President. When Trump took office, we here at PAX were as stunned as everyone else. A number of my colleagues shared their thoughts on what the Trump administration might mean for PAX´s work (see the blog series “Trump’s Troops”).

Now that the end is in sight, it’s time to see if our concerns were justified, and to look ahead at how we think the Biden administration will handle the post-Trump era.

Looking back at four years of the Trump administration and its dealings with Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, we see a clear move away from international law and the legal order. The administration took several bold steps further complicating any potential for Israeli-Palestinian peace making, starting with the appointment of David Friedman as the new US ambassador to Israel. These steps put the US outside of the international framework and standards.

Another of these steps was the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking with decades of official US policy. The move was highly contested internationally, sparked demonstrations in the Palestinian territories and totally destroyed US credibility as a neutral peace broker.

The Trump administration also stopped USAID funding to Palestine as well as contributions to UNRWA, the UN organisation providing support to Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East. The decision to cut funding to UNRWA caused a large funding gap, directly impacting services.

Trump’s “Deal of the Century”, the suggested peace-plan rolled out at the beginning of this year, if implemented would violate human rights and international law. It was constructed without consulting any of the Palestinian leadership and without meaningful Palestinian input. The plan would give the green light for Israel’s de-jure annexation of large parts of the West Bank. Granted, the plan did include a Palestinian state in the remaining parts of the West Bank and Gaza, but it would be a state in name only, without control over its own territory.

Then we have the normalization deals brokered by the Trump administration between Israel and Bahrein, the UAE and Sudan. In contrast to the peace plan mentioned above, these deals have been realized. Their effect and direction are still difficult to predict, but the fact that Palestinians were totally absent only further complicates any future peace efforts. Also, the deals in and of themselves raise some questions. For instance, the way the Sudan deal was set-up, as well as the internal disagreement within Sudan about the deal, shows the fragility of the agreement.

It’s difficult to anticipate just what the Biden administration will do over the next four years, but a move back to the internationally set parameters is to be expected. For instance, that the US considers the Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal once again and that the president renews contact with the Palestinian leadership and engages with international bodies, such as UNRWA. The “Deal of the Century” will end up in the bin and the US will most likely once again advocate a negotiated two-state solution based on the Oslo Accords.

However, don’t expect a major breakthrough under the Biden administration. He has already said that while he disagreed with the process of how Trump moved the embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, he wouldn’t move it back. A shift in the power balance and therefore the possibility of peace-negotiations between Israel and Palestine, with each side on an equal footing, probably won’t happen under President Biden.

Read PAX blog reacting to the appointment of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel


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