By Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations–
As Israelis cope with their fourth election in two years, Americans must wonder what U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be under the Biden administration—no matter who wins in the Israeli vote. A State Department memo entitled “The US Palestinian Reset and the Path Forward” gives some insight.
The internal memo was by Hadi Amr, a political appointee as the new deputy assistant secretary of state in the Near East bureau and the Department’s highest-ranking official dealing exclusively with Israeli-Palestinian matters. According to The National, the UAE newspaper, the memo was then forwarded by Acting Assistant Secretary Joey Hood to Secretary Blinken. Because this was a memo to, not from, Secretary Blinken, it’s impossible to know if he agrees with its contents. The memo (assuming that The National’s story is accurate) is bottom up, not top down, and tells us not what Blinken’s conclusions will be but what the experts in the Department are urging upon him.
The memo says two things, at bottom: that the United States must repair its relations with the Palestinian Authority/PLO leadership, and that advancing the two-state solution must remain at the heart of U.S. policy.
As to the first point, the memo says “we suffer from a lack of connective tissue following the 2018 closure of the PLO office in Washington and refusal of Palestinian Authority leadership to directly engage with our embassy to Israel.” It then discusses a “reset under way and the path ahead,” meaning “resetting the US relationship with the Palestinian people and leadership….” It also states that “We are planning a full range of economic, security and humanitarian assistance programmes, including through UN Relief and World Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Prior to the fuller launch, we plan to announce $15 million in Covid-related humanitarian assistance.”
A linguistic note: “programmes” is UK English, and would be rendered “programs” in American English. This makes one wonder if the memo is authentic, was drafted by someone educated in British schools, or was inaccurately presented by The National.
As of this date, Palestinian legislative elections are scheduled for May 22, and presidential elections for July 31. Because no elections have been held since 2006, it is quite possible that these elections too will be postponed. That uncertainty as to whether there will be elections, and who will win them if they are held, suggests that this “reset” is a bit premature. “Resetting the US relationship with the Palestinian…leadership” will be extremely difficult if that leadership includes Hamas, as it well may. Indeed, in talks in Cairo in the past week, Fatah and Hamas have discussed a joint electoral list–a maneuver that would guarantee a Hamas role in the PA government, as well as denying the Palestinian people a meaningful electoral contest.
The memo does not address, as far as I am aware, the huge gap between the Palestinian people and the corrupt and increasingly repressive “leadership” of the PA, PLO, and Hamas, but getting along better with that leadership than the Trump administration did does not necessarily benefit the Palestinian people—nor will they necessarily like it. The memo says it should be U.S. policy to support “strengthening civil society, media watchdogs and other elements of the fourth estate, such as emphasising to the the need to protect civil society through the reductions of arrests of bloggers and dissidents.” Quite so, but logic might suggest that we hold off on this “reset” and support unless and until we can get the PA to end its increasingly thuggish behavior. Continue Reading….