ANALYSIS: Biden’s Attempt to Revive Peace Process Seems Dead in Its Tracks

The Biden administration is working hard to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but is making all of Obama’s mistakes

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: palestinians, Peace Process, Biden
Photo: Gili Yaari/Flash 90

The US administration of President Joe Biden is trying to restart the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority but appears to be making the same mistakes that have characterized these mediation efforts since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995, as we will see below.

More than a week after the Palestinian Authority (PA) presented a grocery list of preconditions for new peace talks with Israel to the US administration of President Joe Biden, it appears that the United States has accepted at least one of these conditions.

On Wednesday, July 21, it was announced that the Americans are demanding that Israel stop all construction activities in the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and that the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett apparently has given in to this demand.

Bennett ordered that no meetings of the Israeli Army’s Civil Administration Committee dealing with zoning plans in Samaria and Judea were to be held for the time being.

This means that plans for new construction in the Jewish communities in these areas cannot progress and that there is now a de-facto construction freeze in Judea and Samaria.

This happened earlier during the administration of former-President Barack Obama, who opposed the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria because he believed it prevented the creation of a Palestinian state.

Obama regarded the Jewish communities in the territory captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967 as illegal.

In fact, however, Israel has always had the best claim to these areas because Jordan was an illegal occupier of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, while the Palestinian Arabs never had a state of their own.

Will Biden, like Obama, deem Jewish settlement atop the hills of Samaria to be illegal?

Misreading Israel

Biden, who was vice president under Obama, now appears going down the same path as his former boss in his effort to restart peace talks that have been stalled for years.

The US president is mistaken, however, regarding the mood in Israel, where political leaders from the right to the center-left believe that new peace talks with the PA are futile so long as Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of the Palestinian Authority.

This is mainly due to Abbas’ stubborn refusal to make concessions and his unfeasible demands regarding new Israeli concessions.

More than a week ago, Channel 12 reported that the PA leadership had drawn up a grocery list of pre-conditions for renewing peace negotiations with Israel. The list was presented to the Biden government in the US last week and according to Channel 12, Bennett also received a copy of the list.

According to the Israeli TV station, the PA is demanding that Israel reopen the Orient House in eastern Jerusalem.

This mansion was once used by the PA for political purposes, something prohibited under the Oslo Accords. The Orient House was closed by the Israel Police in 2001 during the first year of the Second Intifada after the PA began using it as a headquarters from which to plan terror attacks against Israel.

Orient House in Jerusalem. The Palestinians violated the Oslo Accords by using it as an official government installation.

Restoring the status quo on the Temple Mount is another demand from the PA and Israel must also reduce its police activities near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while also limiting the number of Jews visiting the holy site.

The PA also demands that Israel stop expelling Arabs from their homes in Jerusalem. This was clearly a reference to a recent court order permitting the eviction of Arab squatters in Shimon HaTzadik, or Sheikh Jarrah in Arabic, a neighborhood near Jerusalem’s Old City.

The PA is also demanding a total halt to construction in “settlements” and Jewish construction projects in what is commonly referred to as “East Jerusalem” (in fact, most Arabs live in the north of Jerusalem).

These are not all the pre-conditions the PA listed.

Israel must also let Palestinian Arabs into the country to reunite with their Israeli Arab families. In addition, Israel must issue more work permits for Palestinian workers and return seized weapons from the Palestinian security forces to the PA.

It was immediately clear that a large majority within the Israeli government would never agree to these Palestinian demands and that the attempt to renew the peace process would effectively become dead in its tracks.

 

Israel issues its own conditions

To clarify Israel’s position on the new peace negotiations desired by the Biden Administration, the two top Israeli ministers on Wednesday set their own terms for the eventual restart of those negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs.

Deputy Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who also holds the Foreign Affairs portfolio, said during a visit to the European Union in Brussels that “a future Palestinian state must be a democracy that seeks peace with Israel.”

Prime Minister Bennett agreed with Lapid, adding: “Self-determination also depends on democracy so that the people are able to determine what they want. Almost none of our neighbors enjoy democracy and if they did they would cease to be.”

Bennett is not in favor of a Palestinian state and therefore used the term “self-determination.”

Neither Bennett nor Lapid trust the Palestinian leadership any more than did their predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Republican politics?

The views of Lapid and Bennett about a democracy that must pursue peace with Israel if the Palestinian Arabs are to achieve statehood or complete self-determination were previously shared by US Presidents George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump.

Here’s what Bush said on April 30, 2003:

“A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have leadership that acts resolutely against terror and is willing and able to build a practicing democracy that is based on tolerance and freedom and on Israel’s willingness to do whatever is necessary for the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state.”

President Trump had included the following paragraph in his 2020 peace plan which is now off the table:

“The Palestinians shall have implemented a governing system with a constitution or another system for establishing the rule of law that provides for freedom of the press, free and fair elections, respect for human rights for its citizens, protection for religious freedom and for religious minorities to observe their faith, uniform and fair enforcement of law and contractual rights, due process under law, and an independent judiciary with appropriate legal consequences and punishment established for violations of the law.”

Trump’s push for a new approach to the peace process, furthermore, included the following paragraph in the peace plan:

“The Palestinians shall have ended all programs, including curricula and textbooks, that serve to incite or promote hatred or antagonism against its neighbors, or which compensate or incentivize criminal or violent activity.”

Trump flipped the peace process on its head, and very much in Israel’s favor.

Palestinians look to Biden

The PA, of course, flatly rejected Trump’s plan when it was published and is now euphoric about Biden’s approach to the conflict with Israel.

The US president has resumed financial aid to the PA and UNRWA, the UN agency that offers aid to Palestinian refugees and all their descendants, and has named an anti-Israel Arab American as his envoy for Palestinian and Israeli affairs.

This envoy, Hadi Amr, is also Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and has the portfolio of Israeli and Palestinian Affairs.

His appointment aroused suspicion in Israel because Amr had always maintained very close ties with Palestinian political groups including Hamas and was known for his anti-Israel stance.

Amr wrote articles in which he expressed his admiration for the Palestinian Intifadas and accused Israel of apartheid and ethnic cleansing, while advocating a deal with Hamas.

The Beirut-born American Arab grew up in Saudi Arabia and founded the Doha Brookings Institute that received its money from Qatar, a country with close ties to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.

Taking all these things into account it’s fair to assume that the new American attempt to renew the peace process is again doomed to fail.

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