Among the main spectators anxiously waiting for the new Biden administration, one can presume that the Palestinian Authority is dusting its house and getting ready, like a bride awaiting the return of her groom. The Palestinians in Ramallah are eager for American taxpayers’ money to fund their empty coffers, similar to the period of Obama’s two terms.
However, it appears that the Biden administration wants Palestinian elections, which would be the first in 14 years. Similar demands have already been made by the EU as the German foreign minister is expected to visit Egypt, Jordan, and France in an attempt to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has been in office for 16 years. Despite his recent announcement of favoring elections, “he will try to dodge elections as he has previously accused Israel of torpedoing them. He Will try to blame it again”. Yoni Ben-Menachem, former CEO of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and prominent journalist, commented recently in an editorial published in the Jerusalem Center for Public and State Affairs.
The dispute between the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Abbas and the Islamic movement of Hamas will not disappear overnight but should lead to a truce termed as reconciliation; at least until the alleged elections are held sometime this year.
Despite the grievances and criticisms of the Palestinians living in harsh economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, it is hard to imagine that Hamas would relinquish its hold on power. In the West Bank, the Tahrir Islamic party has been gaining momentum and popularity. In recent protests, the party spearheaded the opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s decision to allow a musical party at a historic site east of Jerusalem.
The good news for Fatah authority is that this Islamic group does not accept to join forces with Hamas, its biggest rival.
One needs only to reflect on the past twenty years to realize that the Palestinians have been accustomed to political miscalculations and wrong expectations, including believing that the United States will consider what Israel has refused to allow, particularly on the Temple Mount issue.
Today, the Islamic radicalization on the Palestinian street will never recognize that their Al-Aqsa Mosque was indeed built on the site of the Jewish Temple Mount that was destroyed in the year 70 AD.
In fact, that was one of the main reasons for the failure of the Camp David peace talks, held in 2000 where late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected Jewish rights in Jerusalem out of hand. This was the primary reason the Israeli side would no longer consider him a partner in the peace process.
It is well known that not a single major Israeli political party would compromise Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. In parallel, Muslims regard it as their Noble Sanctuary.
It is worth noting that both Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches in Jerusalem have historically known that the Islamic mosque, regarded as the third principal mosque for Muslims, was constructed on the Temple Mount in the 8th century. The Gospel of Luke records that the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple took place forty days after his birth. Both churches celebrate this event on their annual feast calendar.
Late Father Peter Medros of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem confided to this writer that on February 2nd of every year, a Catholic priest would hold a silent prayer inside the Aqsa Mosque, a tradition that continued until 1951. It was halted because of the controversy surrounding the site. But after the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, both churches chose to avoid delving into this sensitive subject.
This topic is cited here to illustrate the complexities of a scenario where the Palestinians had rejected any flexibility on sharing the site. Israel, on the other hand, will never surrender this right which is viewed as a core symbol of its Jewish identity.
Among other factors of dispute, this could be a major deterrent to any peace talks between the two sides, since almost neither could compromise.
Furthermore, Hamas, Iran’s main proxy in Gaza, won’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. Of course, if the next Palestinian elections occur soon, they will not hand over power to a Palestinian authority that is under the control of Abbas in Ramallah.
According to a Palestinian journalist who chose to remain anonymous, the two most important factors in the West Bank are “corruption and Islamic radicalism”. Another demand by the US is that the old guards of Fatah tainted with corruption and nepotism should leave the political scene.
In addition, some believe that Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi might be freed from the Israeli prison as part of a new movement by the Palestinians to form a leadership that can make some historic decisions.
In an interview with Marwan Muasher, Vice president of Carnegie Endowment for Peace Studies, the renowned former Jordanian diplomat was quoted saying that “the Biden administration would cancel the Trump peace plan”, which had been dubbed a “Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People”. Nonetheless, he also predicted that Biden, whom he knows personally, would not succeed in establishing a Palestinian state and would not relocate the US embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.
Marwan Muasher was Jordan’s foreign minister during the Aqaba peace conference that President Bush attended in 2003. He previously served as Jordan’s ambassador to Tel Aviv and Washington.
However, during the election campaign, Biden promised to support the return of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Muslim organizations, such as The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which mobilized one million votes for Biden might want to cash in on their support to Biden by making him provide US tax money support to the Palestinians.
It is believed that the Biden administration will reopen the US Consulate in East Jerusalem (Virtual US Embassy for the Palestinians) while the PLO office in Washington can resume its previous limited status.
The Palestinians hope that the United States will exert pressure on Israel to end its plans of unilaterally annexing portions of the West Bank and to cease settlement activities.
Moreover, by now, the Palestinians must know that the incoming US administration will continue to focus on pressing issues, including the Covid-19 pandemic, whereas Israel is scheduled to hold its fourth election in two years on March 23.
It is hard to believe that any significant steps can be taken during this year since both the US and Israel have different priorities. The most the Palestinians can hope for is immediate financial support and the return of US funding to UNRWA.
While the incoming President Biden and both the US Houses know very well that neither is going to support any step that is perceived as compromising Israel’s security or that will oblige Israel to make existential concessions.
Furthermore, the United States is expected to face massive resistance from Israel over the return of the nuclear deal that was reached during the Obama presidency in 2015. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain are in the same trench with Israel to keep Iran isolated.
The new alliance between Israel and these Arab countries should strengthen its resolve to face new international pressure. Israel should continue its dominance, both regionally and within the US.
©Samir A. Zedan. All rights reserved.
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