By Daoud Kuttab
After nearly three years of boycotting the U.S. administration, the Palestinian leadership is looking forward to renewing talks with Washington and the new president-elect with an initial focus on the need to stop illegal settlement building. Yet in his last days in office US Secretary of State plans to visit an illegal West Bank settlement.
Throughout outgoing President Trump’s four disastrous years, Palestinians were not only unhappy with the biased actions of his administration, but they felt it gave the right-wing Israeli prime minister a green light to put further pressure on them. Israel’s decision of holding back tax revenues that were collected by Isreal on Palestine’s behalf as part of the Paris Protocol of 1994 was just one of these acts supported by Trump. Israel also used the American encouragement as an opportunity to carry out record-setting house demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures in the fall of 2020 as well as increase the building of illegal Jewish settlements on confiscated Palestinian lands.
The settlement expansion specifically is a Palestinian sore point. It unilaterally chokes the chances of an independent Palestinian state to be established on areas Israeli occupied in 1967. In fact, the United Nations Security Council had decided in December 2016 that such settlement activity is illegal and contrary to international law. UNSC resolution 2334 passed without a U.S veto in the last days of the Obama-Biden Administration obliged Israel to stop such activities. In the preamble of the resolution that world community condemned “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character, and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction, and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions.”
Suzan Rice the national security advisor at the time (and is on Biden’s shortlist for secretary of state) had instructed Samantha Powers the US ambassador to the UN to abstain and not to veto that resolution allowing it to pass overwhelmingly 14–0.
President Abbas who congratulated President-elect Biden has called on the new administration “to strengthen the Palestinian-American to achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for our people, as well as to work for peace, stability and security for all in our region and the world.”
Abbas would like to hold an international peace conference sometime early in 2021 after Biden’s inauguration. In his speech to the UN general assembly on September 25th, 2020, Abbas called on the UN’s secretary-general and the quartet of which the US is a leading player, to “convene an international conference with full authority and with the participation of all concerned parties, early next year, to engage in a genuine peace process, based on international law, UN resolutions and the relevant terms of reference, leading to an end of the occupation.”
For a conference to be held and produce results in the first days of the Biden administration might be a tall order. But what the Palestinians would like to see as soon as Joe Biden becomes president is the active implementation of UNSC 2334 which forbids house demolitions, land confiscation, and settlement expansion. A quick search of the positions of Biden, his chief of staff, and some of the key projected appointees show that the one foreign policy that they all agree to is their opposition to illegal Israeli settlement activity. They can see clearly as the rest of the world how such activities halt any serious attempt at a resolution of the Palestinian conflict based on the concept of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Former Vice President Biden has said to Netanyahu in 2014 “I don’t’ agree with a damn thing you say but I love ya.”
The current U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, apparently with an eye on the presidential run in 2024, is still trying to please right-wing fundamentalist Christian supporters by supporting the most right-wing elements in Isreal. Pompeo, an avowed Christian Zionist, who removed the term occupation from the annual human rights reports to Congress, is now trying to further legitimize illegal Jewish settlements. In the last days of the Trump administration, he is now planning to visit the Jewish settlement of Psagot which is literally a few kilometers from the Palestinian presidency and the Ramallah home of President Abbas. This would be yet another unprecedented act by a US official in total contradiction to US foreign policy. Article 5 of UNSC resolution 2334 specifically calls on all states, “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”
Peace in the Middle East is possible but it will require courage and a resolute position of Washington. Palestinians are hoping that President-elect Biden will insist that Israel follows the text and the spirit of the anti-settlement UNSC resolution 2334 that was passed during the Obama-Biden Administration. Confirming that will go a long way in beginning the hard process of bringing about a just peace in the Middle east.
Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on Twitter @daoudkuttab