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Palestinian Politician Condemns Biden’s Promise to Keep US Embassy in Jerusalem

Analysts see silver lining for Palestinians if Biden becomes president

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s pledge to keep the US Embassy in Jerusalem if he becomes US president is “very disappointing,” said Mustafa Barghouti, the head of the Palestinian National Initiative political party.

Biden made the statement on Wednesday during a virtual fundraiser. The move should have happened “in the context of a larger deal to help us achieve important concessions for peace in the process. But now that is done, I would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv,” he said.

Barghouti told The Media Line: “It’s unfortunate, it’s disappointing. I wish Bernie Sanders were running against Mr. Trump. Although he [Sanders] is Jewish, he has the best position on Palestinian rights.”

Biden had previously called President Donald Trump’s decision to move the embassy “shortsighted and frivolous.”

The former vice president also told supporters that if he were elected, he would reopen a US consulate in east Jerusalem and seek a two-state solution that would “engage the Palestinians.’’

Barghouti said that Biden’s position was similar to Trump’s.

“Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump support the annexation of east Jerusalem by Israel,” he claimed. “That is unacceptable and it represents a violation of international law, it also represents a violation of the same resolutions that the United States didn’t object to in [UN] Security Council Resolution 2334, which prohibits annexation of occupied territory and prevents Israel from building in occupied territory.”

The resolution was approved in 2016, near the end of US President Barack Obama’s second term, and the United States abstained.

Hani Al-Masri, director-general of Masarat, the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, told The Media Line that Biden is “known to be pro-Israel” and that no one should be “surprised” by what he said.

“This is to be expected. The Democratic Party is a friend of Israel and former presidents from the Democratic Party have been strong supporters of Israel. Trump moved from the usual American support for Israel to supporting the right wing in Israel.”

Still, Masri says, Palestinians should not be completely discouraged by the former vice president’s comments.

“This statement should not cause us to write him off and to not see the differences [between Biden and Trump]. His position on opening a consulate is a recognition of the Palestinians’ right to east Jerusalem, and his opposition to annexation is very important.”

Trump was harshly criticized internationally for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there.

Palestinians cut all communications with the Trump administration at the end of 2017 when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly said that Washington no longer can be the sole mediator of the conflict.

Barghouti concurs, saying the United States is not to be trusted.

“I think the Palestinians made a grave mistake like many others when they thought that the United States can be an impartial broker between Israelis and Palestinians. The US cannot do that because it has very strong strategic ties with Israel.”

Barghouti added that the international community must play a bigger role. “The framework for negotiations should have been an international one. A framework that is dominated by the United States is completely biased toward Israel.”

Previous US presidents had pledged before they were elected to move the embassy to Jerusalem but had not done so.

Daoud Kuttab, a prominent Amman-based Palestinian journalist, writer and analyst, told The Media Line that Biden’s comments were also politically motivated.

“Palestinians have learned not to put much trust in politicians, especially in an election season. Like all politicians, former vice president Biden is trying to keep his doors open to all parties. As election season heats up, he needs to keep his progressive pro-Palestinian base alive, but he also needs the funding and support from the pro-Israel side.”

“He is trying to take a more centrist approach,” Kuttab said. “Biden will probably be less supportive of Palestinians than Obama. Although there were high expectations of Obama, they fizzled out except for that last-minute abstention in the Security Council.”

Biden’s latest remarks were among the most detailed comments he has made on the issue in his 2020 campaign.

Palestinians are also concerned about what steps Israel may take before the US presidential election in November.

The leaders of Israel’s Likud and Blue and White parties, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz, agreed to form a unity government that plans to annex parts of the West Bank, including major settlements, as envisaged by Trump’s Palestinian-Israeli peace plan. The settlements are considered illegal by much of the world.

The Israeli coalition agreement infuriated Palestinian officials, who said annexation would kill any chance for peace.

Barghouti accused Israel of taking advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Israelis are using the coronavirus pandemic to hasten the annexation process and liquidate Palestinian rights. The new Israeli government is nothing but a government to implement the so-called Trump plan, and that’s very dangerous to the future of both Palestinians and Israelis. It means only prolonging the conflict.”

President Trump introduced his long-awaited “deal of the century” at the end of January. Palestinians immediately and angrily rejected the Trump proposal and refused to discuss it. The plan calls for a demilitarized Palestinian entity whose capital would be on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Palestinians have long said they sought to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in east Jerusalem.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened last week that the PA would consider agreements with Israel and the United States “completely canceled” if Israel moves forward on the matter.

Masri says that unless the Palestinians take tangible steps, their threats are idle.

“Threats that aren’t carried out, won’t be taken seriously, especially since these threats have been repeated several times in recent years by the president and Palestinian officials. The important thing is what will be implemented. What are the procedures. All these meetings and decisions are nothing but ink on paper.”

He stressed that Palestinians must unite to influence the international community. The Palestinian Authority has problematic relations with Hamas, which rules Gaza.

“The PA must walk the path of national unity and put the Palestinian house in order. It must adopt all forms of resistance, it must boycott and it must draw up a plan to withdraw from all its security and political obligations, including rescinding its recognition of Israel.”

However, Kuttab says Biden’s support for a two-state solution is a silver lining for the Palestinians.

“Any leader who can genuinely support a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be welcomed by Palestinians and peace-loving people around the world.”