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Restoring US recognition of Palestinians whom Trump tried to erase

Feb 03,2021 - Last updated at Feb 03,2021

The Biden administration has announced a what appears to be a positive shift in US Palestine policy from the Israel-inspired line adopted by Donald Trump and his regional team. According to acting US ambassador to the UN, Richard Mills, in an address to the UN Security Council, the new administration supports a "mutually agreed two-state solution" providing for Israel to live in peace "alongside a viable Palestinian state". This sounds grand but means very little on the ground in Palestine.

There is, firstly, a problem with the words "mutually agreed" and "viable Palestinian state". Israel has never wanted any Palestinian state, viable or not, to emerge in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and has done everything in its power to prevent this from happening.

As soon as Israel conquered these areas in 1967, it began to construct illegal colonies and continues colonisation in defiance of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention which bans an occupying power from transferring its own civilians into territory it occupies. If the US and the rest of the international community were serious about providing a state for the Palestinians, Israel should have been sanctioned long ago for colonisation but sanctions were never discussed.

Furthermore, once the Palestinians and Israelis adopted the Oslo Accords in 1993, all Israeli colonisation should have halted. At that time, there were 111,000 Israeli colonists in the West Bank, 152,000 in East Jerusalem and 4,800 in Gaza.

If the then Israeli Prime minister yitzak Rabin had been serious about the Oslo peace process, he would have stopped colonisation and prepared to withdraw to the 1948 lines. He and his successors did the opposite. Today there are 475,481 colonists in the West Bank and some 200,000 in East Jerusalem. Israel withdrew troops and colonists from Gaza in 2005 in order to accelerate colonisation in the above areas but Israel maintains the occupation of Gaza by exercising control from air, sea and land.

Having done nothing for decades to end Israel's take-over of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Mills said that the US under the Biden administration will now urge both sides to "avoid unilateral steps". Israelis should halt annexation of Palestinian territory, colonisation and demolition of Palestinian homes, while Palestinians should cease incitement to violence and stop paying pensions to families of members imprisoned or killed while resisting the Israeli occupation.

There is no equivalence between the two sides. Israel's actions are intended to prevent the implementation of the "two-state solution" by appropriating territory Palestinians demand for their state while Palestinian activities do not change the situation on the ground. Palestinians do not really need to incite violence against Israelis as the Israeli army and colonists do this constantly and aiding families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed for opposing the occupation would cease once there is a "viable Palestinian state" as this would require evacuation of Israeli colonies.

The US is the only global power with leverage over Israel's activities but Washington has always refused to exercise this leverage. The Biden administration will not do so. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already said that the $3.8 billion in annual military aid the US provides to Israel will not be touched. Intended to ensure Israel's military superiority over all antagonists, this also funds Israel's continuing occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian territories.

Therefore, the return to the "two-state solution" does not envisage the emergence of a "viable Palestinian state". The Israelis have used colonisation to make this impossible: a "viable Palestinian state is a pipe dream”.

Why then speak of the "two-state solution?" It is the solution adopted by the international community, the Arabs, and the Palestinian Authority. Even if the Israelis reject it, the never attainable "two state solution" feeds  the false assurance that one day there can be a settlement of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Talk of the "two-state solution" calms Arab and Palestinian nerves and allows the Israelis to carry on with colonisation without paying a price. Dropping the "two-state solution" is destabilising. Angry Palestinians and their supporters could make trouble, and resort to violence. Israel's moral standing would be undermined by formal recognition that it is the world's sole remaining colonising state decades after Western colonies achieved independence.

Despite repeating the hollow "two state solution" ploy, Mills signalled  several positive changes in US policy under President Joe Biden, despite his longstanding friendship for Israel. Mills spoke of reversing Trump's cancellation of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians and restoration of US-Palestinian relations cut by Trump. Mills mentioned improving "conditions on the ground", particularly in Gaza, by restoring relations with the Palestinian Authority and people by renewing US assistance programmes.

Although Mills was not specific, renewal of assistance could mean restoration of the traditional US annual contribution of $365 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which cares for 5 million Palestinian refugees in this region and, perhaps, the $200 million for other aid and development projects. Early in 2018, Trump cancelled $300 million of that year's funding for UNRWA as well as the $200 million and discontinued all US financial assistance to the Palestinians. UNRWA managed to reduce expenditures and find new sources of finance for 2018 but has been struggling since then. Will Biden make up the shortfall caused by Trump's stingy and punitive policies? If Biden is generous, this could cost $1,630 billion to cover 2018-2020, alone.

Mills also said the administration will reopen diplomatic missions shut down by Trump. Presumably this means the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington and the US consulate in East Jerusalem which served the Palestinian sector of the city.

Recommitting to the "two state solution" amounts to no more than an empty gesture unless the Biden administration intends to exert its considerable influence on Israel to achieve progress towards the creation of a "viable Palestinian state." However, reversing Trump's other nasty policies is welcome and counts as restoring US recognition of the Palestinian people whom Trump tried to erase.

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