In advance of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud ‘Abbas, clearly articulated what it expected the visit to yield – namely the fulfilment of a series of commitments they claim Biden made them during his election campaign and since the start of his presidency. Chief of these demands are: the removal of the PLO from the Congress list of terror organizations; the reopening of the PLO representation in Washington, which was shut down by the previous administration; the reopening of the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, which served as the U.S. representation to the PA until it was closed upon the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; the renewal of the U.S. financial aid to the PA, halted in August 2018 by president Trump; exerting significant pressure on Israel to halt what the Palestinian leadership refers to as Israel’s unilateral settlement activities in the West Bank, its attempts to change the status quo in East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, and the escalation of its actions against the Palestinians; a reiteration of the U.S. commitment to the two-state solution, and serious action towards renewing the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.
These demands were repeatedly stated in meetings and contacts between Palestinian and U.S. officials ahead of Biden’s visit, and in Palestinian officials’ media statements. According to reports, the atmosphere of these exchanges was tense, after the Americans informed the Palestinians that these moves would not be promoted in the near future. The Palestinian’s anger and frustration with the American position caused them to lower their expectations from the visit, and also to threaten that, if the visit fails to produce any breakthrough or create a political horizon, and if none of their demands are met, they will be forced to implement decisions taken by the PLO Central Council in February 2022. These decisions include suspending the PLO’s recognition of Israel, revoking all of its agreements with it and halting the security coordination with Israel, among other measures. In one of his speeches, ‘Abbas implicitly threatened to take steps against the U.S. as well, noting that he had boycotted the Trump administration in protest of its policy and the so-called Deal of the Century. At the urging of the Americans and apparently of regional elements as well, ‘Abbas decided to postpone the implementation of these decisions until after Biden’s visit.
This report reviews the expressions of the Palestinian leadership’s frustration and its threats to take measures after the visit.
Reports from the last month in the Palestinian and Arab media indicate that President ‘Abbas and other PA leaders are angry and frustrated following the meetings and contacts they held with the Americans ahead of Biden’s visit. These meetings led them to understand that the Biden administration has no intention of quickly meeting their demands or even of placing emphasis on the Palestinian issue, whether due to the opposition of the Israeli government or because other issues are currently at the top of the American agenda, such as the war in Ukraine, the rivalry with Russia and China and the Iranian nuclear program.
Another issue that angered the Palestinian leadership was a report leaked in late May, which stated that, in light of Israel’s firm objections, the U.S. administration had revoked its decision to reopen the consulate in East Jerusalem, in favor of alternative gestures: upgrading the Palestinian Affairs Unit at the U.S. embassy in Israel and placing it directly under the authority of the State Department. This leak, as well as the meetings between the sides – which, according to some reports, were “tense” and “angry” – led the Palestinian leadership to lower its expectations from the visit. PLO Executive Committee member ‘Azzam Al-Ahmad, for instance, said several days before the visit that he was “not optimistic” about it
Articles in the Palestinian press likewise called to lower expectations regarding the visit. Bassem Barhoum wrote in his column in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida that “the Palestinians have no illusions about and no high hopes for this visit.” The main objectives of Biden’s visit, he said, are to ensure Israel’s security and address the global energy crisis and the repercussions of the war in Ukraine. To this end, the Biden administration “seeks to lower the flames of the Palestinian conflict for now,… so as to keep the situation from exploding and preventing the Americans from achieving the aforementioned objectives,” he concluded.
‘Abd Al-Majid Sweilem, a columnist for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, likewise claimed that the visit was a diplomatic gesture and nothing more, and called not to expect too much from it. In a June 2 column, he wrote: “We seem to be wildly exaggerating [the significance of] the U.S. President’s visit to Ramallah… The American administration is not hiding its positions and intentions, and they do not include an intention to adopt a new policy. On the contrary, the American administration openly refuses to [do anything] beyond underscoring the importance of the two-state solution…” In another column two weeks later, he wrote that “the visit to Tel Aviv and Ramallah… is a secondary visit on the periphery of the real objectives of the President’s visit… The visit to Ramallah is nothing more than a diplomatic gesture.”