Mideast: Biden’s support for a two-State solution ?

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Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

UNDENIABLY, Trump’s favour-ridden moves for Israel had paralyzed the decades old peace legacy to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. US President Joe Biden’s Middle East policy “will be to support a mutually agreed, two-state solution, in which Israel lives in peace and security, alongside a viable Palestinian State”, acting US Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills has told the UN Security Council. Ambassador Richard Mills said on Tuesday the Joe Biden Administration intends to restore Palestinian aid and take steps to re-open diplomatic missions closed by previous Trump Administration. However, Biden’s appointed US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said the US would keep its embassy in Jerusalem.
Last week, Israeli authorities made a major last-minute push to advance illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, which the Palestinians seek as part of a future independent state, in the twilight hours of the Trump Administration. The anti-settlement monitoring group ‘Peace Now’ said the majority of the new government tenders are deep inside the occupied West Bank. Earlier this week, the Israeli government advanced plans for nearly 800 homes in West Bank settlements. Israel accelerated settlement construction under Trump, whose administration did not criticise settlement announcements and in 2018 said it did not consider settlements illegal under international law. For the Israelis, the Trump Administration’s move — of changing the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — accompanied by a tailored made approval of the Israel settlement were great achievements for Netanyahu as Washington secured agreements late last year by four Arab states — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — to start normalizing relations with Israel.

According to Peace Now, Israel approved or advanced construction of over 12,000 settlement homes in 2020, the highest number in a single year since it started recording in 2012. Biden is expected to reverse course and adopt the traditional American stance of opposing settlement constructions, setting the stage for tension with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The US envoy to the UN said the Biden administration intended to restore Palestinian aid and take steps to re-open the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington. Under Trump, Washington cut some $360 million in annual funding for the U.N. agency supporting Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).“We do not do these steps as a favour to the Palestinian leadership,” Mills said. “U.S. assistance benefits millions of ordinary Palestinians and helps to preserve a stable environment that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.”

The lethality of Trump’s Mideast plan devilishly crafted by his son in law, Jared Kushner comes from the fact that after the Palestinians shared and analyzed the full details of the plan with Arab Foreign Ministers at an emergency meeting of the Arab League, they unanimously and unambiguously rejected it. Noting that the plan would lead to “apartheid” instead of two states, the Arab League chief went on to say: “In all honesty, we didn’t expect that the proposed end of the road would be as disappointing and unfair as it is, although the signals have been there.” Following the Arab League step, and a meeting in Saudi Arabia, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation also unanimously rejected the plan; even if this rejection is partly meant for public consumption, it’s indicative of how Arab governments read the pervasive public sentiment.

It is obvious that Biden is unlikely to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right the same level of unreserved support that they enjoyed under Trump. However, there will be marked continuity between the Administrations on some key issues. Biden criticised Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem but has stated that he will not move it back to Tel Aviv. Like Trump, Biden is also a staunch proponent of the US security guarantee to Israel and does not support leveraging US aid to temper Israeli settlement activity. He is also firmly opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS). His nominee for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, insisted that the Biden Administration would push back against the Movement and make efforts to denounce Israel at the United Nations.

To implement effective multilateralism that advances peace, the Biden Administration should first and foremost promote the formation of the multilateral mechanism, in essence an updated version of the Quartet (formed in 2002, and including the U.S., Russia, the UN and the EU). Key European and Arab states would be invited to join this mechanism, which would have to engage with pro-peace Israelis and Palestinians who can articulate the needs of both peoples to the international community. Such a mechanism could formulate renewed international understandings on the parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement. This would require adapting previous policy documents initially drafted in the early 2000s (such as the Clinton parameters, the Bush roadmap and the Arab Peace Initiative) to current circumstances.

Arguably, the multilateral mechanism could also lead to the formulation of an international incentive package for peace that would impress upon both Israel and the Palestinians the fruits of peace. Making the benefits of peace tangible and specific from the outset will boost political willingness and public support for achieving it. The international community has expressed support in the past for such a package, but no attempts were made to devise one under the Trump Administration.

To conclude, it appears to be a mixture of both optimism and pessimism about President Biden’s peace ventures regarding the ultimate discovery of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Given the evidence that the Israeli factor dominated the contours of the US Foreign policy—vindicated by Kamala Harris speech in December that indicates Washington‘s tilt towards Israel. Despite Biden Administration’s notion of disallowing the Israeli construction on the Palestinian land, and its support for the future capital of the Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, the Biden policy to support the Trump move of shifting the US Embassy to Jerusalem vindicates that it will be difficult for the Biden Administration to undo all the favours granted to Israel by the narcissi Trump Administration.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.