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Explainer: US changes course on Palestine, can Biden facilitate two-state solution?

Published: Updated:

The acting US ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday that Washington would restore ties with Palestine and renew suspended aid to refugees. In addition, a senior White House official relayed President Joe Biden’s commitment to a two-state solution between Ramallah and Tel Aviv.

And although the announcements should come as no surprise to those who followed Biden on the campaign trail, where he beat former President Donald Trump, analysts are skeptical that a two-state solution will be reached during the US president’s four-year term.

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Under Trump, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission was shuttered, and US aid was suspended for accusations that the funds were being used for terrorist acts.

That resulted in a $350 million funding gap for the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

During Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Senate confirmation hearing, Biden’s nominee reiterated that Biden was committed to a two-state solution with the Palestinians and Israelis.

Blinken did pledge for enduring US support to Israel’s security and that the US would defend its ally in the Middle East.

Washington’s staunch backing of Israel is not expected to change, but its approach toward Palestine most certainly will.

Reversing the decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for example, will not happen.

The Biden administration will pick up where the Trump administration left off in terms of encouraging more countries to normalize ties with Tel Aviv.

However, Biden and his team “recognize that Arab-Israeli normalization is not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace,” acting US envoy to the UN told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Mills said, “the United States will urge Israel’s government and the Palestinians to avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult,” such as the annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions and providing compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki then said that Biden believed that “a two-state solution remains the only path forward.”

Despite the about-face on US policy toward Palestinians, there is some skepticism over how much progress Biden will be able to make on a two-state solution.

“I don’t think they’ll make actual progress toward a two-state solution in any real sense, but [the Biden administration] will certainly deescalate the relationship that had [become] very negative” under Trump, said Paul Salem, president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

The Arab states who recently normalized ties with Israel will be called upon to be constructive in encouraging Palestinians to sit down with Israelis again, Salem said.

Upcoming elections in Palestine and Israel and the potential for new leadership in both could be used as an opportunity to press for resumed talks.

This could result in partial economic progress, security engagements and some progress on the situation in Gaza.

“But any real potential for a two-state solution will have to await a more historic kind of shift within Israel,” Salem predicted.

Read more:

International community reprimands Israel’s annexation plans

If elected, Biden to restore Palestinian aid, reopen PLO office in Washington: Harris

- With agencies