Israeli-Palestinian Talks: Can Biden Succeed Where Others Have Failed?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


The incoming Biden administration is likely to face a series of domestic and international challenges as it attempts to steer away from the policies of the past four years. It is not surprising that one of them will be restarting in earnest the Israeli-Palestinian talks. There is a recognition by many in the region, however, that the United States should share the burden with other countries, rather than going it alone. The good news: there are signs that after a period of icy relations, both the Palestinians and Israel may be ready to reengage in a peace process which has for some time now failed to make any significant forward progress.

Writing for the Jerusalem Post, U.S. academic and commentator Alon Ben-Meir calls on the Biden administration to distance itself from President Trump’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian question, warning that for President-elect Joe Biden “to succeed where his predecessors failed, he must repair the severe damage that President Donald Trump has inflicted on the entire peace process and restore the Palestinians’ confidence in a new negotiation that could lead to a permanent solution…. Unlike Trump’s envoys who openly supported the settlements and paid little or no heed to the Palestinians’ aspirations, Biden’s envoys should be unbiased and known for their integrity, professionalism and understanding of the intricacies of the conflict, and be committed to a two-state solution. The Arab states and the EU are extremely vested in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi and German officials will be ideal observers who can render significant help in their unique capacity as leading Arab and European powers.”

Hussein Haridy, a former Egyptian assistant foreign minister, posits a similar argument in a recent op-ed for Al Ahram, especially with regard to the involvement of key European and Arab countries, many of whom did not see eye to eye with the Trump administration’s approach to the peace talks: “The four years of President Trump in the White House have not advanced the cause of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Although the White House announced last January a peace plan to solve the Palestinian-Israeli question, the Palestinians and most Arabs have not been convinced that this was the best and only alternative to peace and security in the Middle East…. Arab countries and leading European powers, which have traditionally played a significant role in promoting peace in the Middle East, whether in the southern tier of Europe or in the north, including Germany, could work together to advance the cause of peace in the region aided by the Biden administration.”

While there have been many false dawns in the past, there is a sense that both the Palestinians and the Israelis may be open this time to try and move the process forward. The past four years have been especially difficult for the Palestinian leadership, which has felt isolated, resentful and betrayed. As Asharq Alawsat’s Hazem Saghieh points out, “The Palestinians’ bitterness is understandable, especially given the expansion of settlements that chips away at their land and the ongoing erosion of the two-state solution, which undercuts their uncontested rights. Exacerbating the bitterness and blending it with a sense of having been deceived is the Arabs’ history of lying to the Palestinians…. This rupture between the Palestinian cause and Arab countries’ affairs and concerns has become everyone’s catastrophic conclusion, one that Palestinian policies themselves are not innocent of. The cause no longer speaks to states and peoples’ interests or fears; indeed, it sometimes feeds those fears.”

In light of last week’s recognition by the US government of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, there is a palpable fear that the same model may also be applied in the future to the Occupied Territories. The development is bound to put even more pressure on Palestinian officials, since, as Solon Solomon, a former staffer at the Knesset Legal Department, writes for Yedioth Ahronoth, “Trump’s announcement last week affirming his recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara challenges the international community on resolving territorial conflicts. No longer is the focus on the requirement of an occupier to withdraw and allow an independent state to be established. The new question to be decided is whether the withdrawal contributes to peace and stability. Such a shift in the U.S. position could have a significant effect on the way it regards a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has come under fire both internationally and at home. Even though only in its preliminary examination stage, the referral of the situation in Palestine to the International Criminal Court is bound to bring Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories under further scrutiny. The Trump administration has acted as a shield for the time being, but Arab News’ Ray Hanania believes that with a changing of the guard in the White House, Israel may well become exposed: “No amount of political propaganda from a weakened secretary of state, or tweeting by an outgoing, lame duck American president, will prevent the ICC from pursuing its duty to investigate the most heinous of crimes against humanity…. Israel has tried to deflect the ICC’s investigation and enlisted the support of US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In June, Pompeo decried the court because of its investigation into the war crimes accusations filed by the government of Palestine in 2018…. Each accusation is backed up by an article of the Rome Statute, which is the legal basis of the ICC’s existence and mandate. Israel can bury its head in the sand, but it won’t be able to avoid prosecution, regardless of who sits in the White House.”

At home, PM Netanyahu has been urged to finalize a deal with Hamas that would see captured Israeli soldiers released in return for the release of a considerable number of Palestinians prisoners. Aviram Shaul, the brother of one of the captured IDF soldiers, and Avi Kalo, a former head of the department for hostages and missing persons in the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate, penned an op-ed last week for the Yedioth Ahronoth demanding the return of the “captives…. The coronavirus pandemic has created a window of opportunity for a deal to return the IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens in Gaza. Israel’s government should be commended for its efforts to reach such an agreement, but the six-and-a-half years of humanitarian and civil pressure to bring the Israelis back have proven to be a resounding failure…. The deal must… include release of prisoners with no security background, prisoners freed as part of the 2011 Shalit deal who have since been rearrested and other prisoners whose behavior Israel can monitor to ensure no future dangerous activity.”

Unfortunately, as most things related to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, every small step forward is often followed by a setback. The latest reporting on the prisoner swap appears to put cold water on the likelihood that the deal will go through. However, adversity has been a tough taskmaster for the Palestinians, who, according to this Jordan Times op-ed by Ramzy Baroud, on the 33rd anniversary of the First Intifada can reflect with pride on the fact that the Intifada “almost entirely changed the nature of the political equation pertaining to Palestine, imposing the ‘Palestinian people’, not as a cliché used by the Palestinian leadership and Arab governments to secure for themselves a degree of political legitimacy, but as an actual political actor. Thanks to the Intifada, the Palestinian people have demonstrated their own capacity at challenging Israel without having their own military, challenging the Palestinian leadership by organically generating their own leaders, confronting the Arabs and, in fact, the whole world, regarding their own moral and legal responsibilities towards Palestine and the Palestinian people.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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