During the last four years of Trump administration, many important words and concepts such as “human rights” or “two-states solution” were effectively omitted completely from the global and Middle Eastern vocabulary. Many leaders and many parties in the region had hoped and prayed that this situation will last forever, or at least for another four years, but then Joe Biden came along.
The new American administration wastes no time unmaking Trump’s legacy of indifference calling out loudly actors who violate human rights them, from Russia to Yemen. Several, though not all, of Trump’s decisions on the Israeli-Palestinian track were quickly revoked. The USAID will renew its humanitarian projects in the Palestinian territories, the U.S. consulate will open its doors again in East Jerusalem and the PLO offices will resume their work in Washington. And yet, it’s abundantly clear that the Israeli-Palestinian file is not in the top of new administration’s agenda, and there is no sense of urgency to try and fix things.
The old proverb says that if it ain’t broken, don’t touch it, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict might now seem as the less urgent in comparison to regional disasters of Syria, Yemen or Lebanon. However, it is not going anywhere (despite the reassurances of the settlement lobby) and the situation is as explosive as ever. In absence of clear and consistent American policy, the unmaking of Trump’s legacy in Israel and PA might not be enough to salvage the two-states solution and to prevent the deterioration of the situation on the ground.
To be fair, the stalemate in negotiations between Israel and PA didn’t start with Trump. The leaders on both sides own the responsibility for failing many rounds of negotiations. However, it was Trump who made it crystal-clear which one of Abraham’s children was his favorite and which one will be left alone in the cold. His one-sided, cynical policy instilled confidence in settlement lobby leaders that not only will they have an upper hand in this century-long conflict, but they will do it while being cheered by the American president. At the same time, many Palestinians became completely disillusioned with the role of the U.S. as a fair broker, as well as with the ability of the Palestinian Authority to defend them and to promote their dream of independence. The PA became weaker than ever before, and in absence of direct cooperation with the IDF, the latter took a greater role in civil affairs in Palestinian territories.
The current situation presents us with serious challenges as well as rare opportunities. The situation in West Bank is fragile, the mistrust in the acting Palestinian leadership is immense, the frictions between the would-be heirs of PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and their loyalists is growing. The Palestinian elections, set for May 22 and July 31 add even more uncertainty—the trauma of Hamas’s victory in 2006 is still fresh, even though it took place 15 years ago. Whether these elections will eventually take place or not, they are already a significant game-changer, as would-be heirs on both sides will come out and the fight for power will move into a next phase.
At the same time, normalization and peace treaties that were lately signed between Israel, UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco as well as the reconciliation between the Gulf states and Qatar had enhanced regional stability and created favorable atmosphere for advancing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Some of these states had indicated priorly that they are not interested in a broker role, while others insist on having on place around the negotiating table, but all of them formally support the two-states solution, notwithstanding the criticism against the Palestinian leadership.
Some might claim that the Abrahamic accords ensured that there will be less Arab pressure on Israel in regards to negotiation process, but this development can also prove to be a double-sword. If the American administration will become serious about reigniting the negotiations, it might work constructively with its allies in the Arab world in order to advance a peace process and to provide Israel with the necessary guarantees.
And finally, change might come to Israel as well. In mid-March, Israel is heading to the polling stations for the fourth time in 2 years, and for now, everything is open. Netanyahu is dreaming about a pure right-wing coalition that will inevitably find itself in confrontation with Biden’s White house. If this scenario fails to materialize, Israel might get a brand new prime-minister and a different government for the first time during the last 12 years. This government will not be significantly more dovish than the previous ones, as it will depend on pure right wing, pro-settlement parties And yet, there is reasonable chance that this new government will be more docile while trying to avoid a serious clash with an American administration.
**The article was published on News Week, 4 March 2021.