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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson June 10, 2021
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman June 10, 2021

Biden keeps promise to resume ties with the Palestinian Authority

As early as his first weeks in office, President Joe Biden began rebuilding ties to the Palestinian Authority that had been severed under President Donald Trump. The U.S.-Palestinian Authority rapprochement continued after the end of an 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza in May.

During Trump's presidency, the U.S. closed its consulate general in Jerusalem, an office that fuctioned as the primary venue for U.S. outreach to the Palestinian Authority, and merged it with the U.S. embassy. The move was part of Trump's decision to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule for Palestinians in portions of the West Bank.

In addition, Trump cut off funding for Palestinians, such as payments to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden pledged to reverse Trump's cutoff of diplomatic ties to the Palestinian Authority and restart funding for programs focused on security, economic development, and humanitarian aid for Palestinians.

The first steps came on Jan. 26, when Richard Mills, the acting representative of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, announced that the Biden administration would "restore credible U.S. engagement with Palestinians as well as Israelis."

Mills said this change would involve "renewing U.S. relations with the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people," including reopening closed diplomatic missions, as well as restoring "U.S. assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people."

Mills added that the administration did not view these steps "as a favor to the Palestinian leadership. U.S. assistance benefits millions of ordinary Palestinians and helps to preserve a stable environment that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis." He said the administration would seek "a mutually agreed two-state solution, one in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state."

The changes in the U.S.-Palestinian Authority relationship accelerated following the 11-day fighting between Israel and Hamas in May. Hamas controls Gaza, a Palestinian area on Israel's southwestern border; it is considered terrorist group by the U.S., the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Israel. The fighting ended after a cease-fire brokered by Egypt.

During a May 26 visit to Ramallah, in the West Bank, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"I am here to underscore the commitment of the United States to rebuilding a relationship with the Palestinian Authority and with the Palestinian people, a relationship built on mutual respect and also a shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, and dignity," Blinken said at a joint news conference.

Blinken specified that the U.S. would reopen the consulate in Jerusalem and provide several streams of humanitarian aid. This included $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance for Gaza and $32 million in emergency funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. 

He also said the U.S. would provide an additional $75 million in economic assistance for each of two years, 2020 and 2021; $40 million for non-lethal security assistance for narcotics enforcement; and $10 million for "people-to-people" programs.

The Biden administration "has done most of the things they have promised, accelerated by the crisis" over Gaza, said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations who is now a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, said that the work by the Biden administration "would constitute effectively a reversal of Trump-era breaking of ties."

The aid doesn't go directly to the Palestinian Authority but it goes to a range of services to support Palestinians. A law signed by Trump in 2018, the Taylor Force Act, cuts off assistance directly to the Palestinian Authority until it takes steps to end acts of violence against U.S. and Israeli citizens. The act was named after an American Army veteran who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian near Tel Aviv in 2016. 

As a result of the act, it would be impossible for the Palestine Liberation Organization to reopen their office which Trump closed in 2018. It would require a measure to be enacted, probably by Congress, if the PLO wanted to re-establish its mission in D.C. 

"Biden has been making significant progress toward meeting those parts of the pledge that he can," Ibish said.  "The aid restoration when fully implemented will take us back to roughly where we were at the end of Obama's second term."

Combined, the U.S. intention to reopen the consulate and its resumption of funding streams to benefit Palestinians add up to a Promise Kept. 

Our Sources

Richard Mills, remarks at a U.N. Security Council open debate on the situation in the Middle East, Jan. 26, 2021

Congressional Research Service, "The Palestinians: Overview, 2021 Aid, and U.S. Policy Issues," May 26, 2021

Associated Press, "U.S. announces restoration of relations with Palestinians," Jan. 26, 2021

BBC, "Israel-Gaza conflict: US moves to rebuild relations with Palestinians," May 26, 2021, H.R.1625 - Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, March 23, 2018

AP, Trump closing Palestinian mission in pro-Israel move, Sept. 10, 2018

New York Times, American Graduate Student Killed in Stabbing Rampage Near Tel Aviv, March 9, 2016

Email interview with Aaron David Miller, fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 1, 2021

Interview with Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, June 10, 2021

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