The next four years of a Biden presidency will make or break the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to Israeli and Palestinian experts.
Bernard Sabella, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Jerusalem, told Al Arabiya English that Palestinians are “relieved” incumbent Donald Trump did not get re-elected, but added that they shouldn’t hold “high expectations” for a Biden administration.
“As Palestinians, we have to be forceful in presenting our case. If we don’t start negotiations and finalize a peace deal in the next four years, then I’m less optimistic for the future,” said Sabella.
Former US envoy to the Middle East Ambassador Dennis Ross told Al Arabiya English that although the Israeli-Palestinian issue will not be a top priority for Biden due to other domestic and foreign policy challenges, “that does not mean it will be ignored.”
“The Arab states taking normalizing steps toward Israel will give the Biden administration something to work with. That’s where there is an opening—with Arab states being a bridge for the Palestinians, not a bypass road around them,” said Ross.
The US under Biden will be a more “credible mediator” between the Israelis and Palestinians than Trump was, according to Sabella, because a Biden administration is unlikely to take steps that “determine final outcomes.”
In the last four years, the Trump administration has made a series of unilateral moves in favor of Israel, all denounced by Palestinian leadership.
The State Department under Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that recognized a “united” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Palestinians, Arab states, and many other countries support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that calls for a divided Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Under Trump, the State Department cut more than $200 million in aid to the West Bank and Gaza, and $25 million in aid for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, in 2018.
Trump also closed the US consulate in East Jerusalem and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington. Biden has promised to restore economic assistance to the Palestinians and reopen the consulate and PLO office.
However, Biden said in April that he would keep the US embassy in West Jerusalem if elected president.
“There is no chance that he will move the embassy back,” said Ross.
‘Back in business’
Trump was the gift that kept on giving for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Dan Arbell, an associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and a scholar-in-residence at the American University’s Center for Israeli Studies.
Though Netanyahu and Biden have been friendly for decades, the Biden administration will roll back most of Trump’s decisions relating to the Palestinians, which were favored by Netanyahu, said Arbell.
“The total disconnect between Washington and Ramallah for the past few years is coming to an end. The Palestinians will be back in business and diplomatic relations will be back in play, including US economic assistance,” Arbell said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
Netanyahu congratulated Biden on winning the US presidential elections on Sunday, calling the President-elect “a great friend of Israel.”
Congratulations @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel. I look forward to working with both of you to further strengthen the special alliance between the U.S. and Israel.— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) November 8, 2020
“Biden is a friend of Israel, but he’s also more critical of Netanyahu’s positions on the Palestinian issue,” said Arbell.
Biden has condemned Israeli annexation of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land and warned Israel to “stop the threats of annexation and stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace.”
Former Israeli parliament member Ksenia Svetlova said that she believes there will be “profound changes” between the Biden and Trump administration’s policies towards Israel.
“For the Israelis it is wise to think about ways to use the current situation to improve and deescalate the current situation between us and the Palestinians,” Svetlova said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
Sabella said that although peace depends on the will of Israelis and Palestinians to move forward, Palestinians hope Biden will have “time to lay the groundwork and cultivate good faith with both sides.”