Could the US take in the Palestinians?

After the US Elections - Prospects for the Middle East
Rapprochement between the Palestinians and Israel

The presidential elections in the United States of America were watched with tension in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. An impact quickly became apparent after the election: the Palestinian Authority (PA) took the opportunity to renew its relations with Israel. This resumes the security coordination that is important for both sides. Are there any prospects for a further normalization of relations in the sense of the Abraham Agreement between Israel and other Arab states (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan)?

Resumption of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel

The election of Joe Biden is also already showing the first concrete effects in relation to Israel: the PA officially resumed its relations with Israel, which it had broken off six months ago.

In May 2020, the newly sworn in Israeli government included the annexation of parts of the West Bank in its coalition agreement. The basis for this was the Middle East plan presented by US President Donald Trump, which provided for the annexation of around 30 percent of the West Bank. It was the first time that an Israeli government had officially declared such a step a policy goal. PA President Abbas then terminated all relations and agreements with Israel, including the security coordination that is relevant for both sides.

Security coordination between the PA and Israel has now been resumed. PA officials also stated that they were ready to accept duties and taxes that Israel collects for the PA from Israel.

This was preceded by a dispute over the so-called “martyrs pensions”. Israel had decided to reduce the total of the duties and taxes to be passed on to the PA by the amount of the "martyrs' pensions" - about five percent of the total. As a result, the PA has refused to accept any money for six months.

Now the Palestinians - also with a view to the relations with the USA, which cut their aid payments to the PA in the wake of the Taylor Force Act - have promised to revise their social services to these "families of martyrs".

During the year, around $ 890 million in duties and taxes had accumulated with the Israeli state, which the PA had refused to accept. For many months, employees in the administration were only partially paid or no salaries at all. The US elections gave the PA the opportunity to get face-saving respite for its financial problem. At the beginning of November, UNWRA also reported its impending insolvency. The Palestinian economy is suffering greatly from the consequences of the reduced salaries of the authorities, the corona pandemic and the absence of tourists.

Fatah and Hamas remain divided - elections to the Palestinian parliament unlikely

The rapprochement between the PA and Israel will not be conducive to an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, which a few weeks ago, according to the will of both sides, should also lead to parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories.

Hamas, classified by the EU and the USA as a terrorist organization, had already criticized the PA's security coordination with Israel as treason.

From Fatah's point of view, holding elections would be less than opportune. The last elections in the Palestinian Territories took place in 2006, and Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip ever since.

Approval for PA President Abbas and his Fatah party has been poor among the West Bank population for years.

In the past, the PA required the participation of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem as a prerequisite for elections. Israel had always prevented this by declaring that Jerusalemites who participate in Palestinian elections would lose their right to the Jerusalem ID card. This is the Israeli pass, which grants free movement throughout Israel and access to Israel's social security systems.

Regardless of the unresolved question of the participation of East Jerusalemites in elections, a Fatah election defeat against Hamas would be neither in the interests of the PA leadership nor in the interests of Israel. Both sides benefit from a return to the status quo as it has now been initiated.

What's next?

But a lot can still happen before the change of office in the White House in January 2021. Before his departure, Pompeo said that the current government would continue its Middle East policy in this direction. A conceivable step would be the official recognition of Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem and thus also East Jerusalem. The new US embassy, ​​which is under construction, is being built on a plot of land across the 1949 armistice line. It is attributed to East Jerusalem by the international community. Should the Trump administration officially declare the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem (as it did with the Golan Heights in 2019), it could refer to the non-partisan "Jerusalem US Embassy Act" of 1995, which was also adopted by then Senator Joe Biden had signed.

In any case, the majority of the Israeli population would welcome it if the future US President Biden started negotiations with the Palestinians (49 percent vs. 36 percent.
A two-state solution would be welcomed by 48 percent of Israelis, eleven percent would welcome a one-state solution with equal or fewer rights for the Palestinians (10 percent have no opinion, 20 percent none of the options mentioned). (Midgam Institute survey)

As the current trip by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Saudi Arabia (together with the Israeli intelligence chief and Mike Pompeo) shows, the Middle East is still in a state of upheaval. It remains to be seen how the situation in the Middle East will develop in the times of the new US administration, but it is to be expected that the Arab states will continue to move closer to Israel in the future.

Julia Obermeier