Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is working to renew the involvement of the International Quartet in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, despite the objections of the Biden administration.
Senior P.A. officials accuse the United States of “dragging its feet” and failing to live up to its promises to the Palestinians, in particular regarding the reopening in Jerusalem of a U.S. consulate.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the P.A. leader would soon visit Moscow to try to advance support for Palestinian issues. His announcement came after Russia announced that it was holding talks with the Palestinian leadership, following the Oct. 22 meeting in Sochi, Russia, between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that it continues to raise the idea of an Israeli-Palestinian summit meeting in Moscow and that it is promoting an initiative to convene a meeting of the Quartet at a ministerial level, in cooperation with the Arab League.(Russia had previously pressed for but failed to achieve a meeting between Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow.)
The Biden administration fears that putting international pressure on Israel now will destabilize Bennett’s fragile coalition. Abbas, for his part, aims to bring about another international peace conference, as he expressed in his address to the U.N. General Assembly in September. He wishes to issue an ultimatum to Israel: Withdraw to the 1967 lines within a year; otherwise, the P.A. will cancel the Oslo Accords and appeal to the International Court in The Hague.
Deep Palestinian disappointment with the Biden administration
The P.A.’s contacts with the Biden administration are conducted through U.S. envoy Hady Amr, the director of the Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the State Department. President Biden continues to ignore Abbas and has not yet invited him to the White House.
Palestinian frustration is great, al-Arabi al-Jadeed reported on Oct. 23, citing senior Palestinian officials. According to the report, Abbas and P.A. Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh called senior members of the Biden administration “liars” at a meeting of the PLO’s Executive Committee two weeks ago. They added that the administration is “making fun of us,” referring to the administration’s bureaucratic delays in implementing promises made to the P.A.
The Biden administration is totally preoccupied with the challenging situation with China, COVID and the U.S. economic situation. It wants to continue managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without unexpected tremors and without the P.A. collapsing. However, Mahmoud Abbas perseveres because he desires immediate results regarding the promises made to the P.A.
During the Palestinian leadership meeting in Ramallah on Oct. 24, Abbas called on the Biden administration to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and the PLO offices in Washington, which were closed during the Trump administration. He also called on the U.S. administration to lift the economic blockade imposed by President Trump.
During the Executive Committee meeting, Abbas condemned Israel’s decisions to build thousands of new homes in Judea and Samaria, as well as Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations.
The administration’s foot-dragging
The prevailing view among the P.A. leadership is that Biden’s promises to the Palestinians were election propaganda, a mirage that evaporated as soon as the president entered the White House.
The P.A. is disappointed that the administration is delaying the reopening of the American consulate in Jerusalem, and does not accept the claim that this requires the consent of the Israeli government. P.A. sources claim that according to international law and U.N. Resolution 181, Jerusalem is international territory and the status of its diplomatic missions has not changed. Therefore, they argue, reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem only requires the political will of the Biden administration.
Regarding the renewal of U.S. civilian financial aid to the P.A., which was stopped by the Trump administration, the Biden administration claims that its hands are tied because of the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits any financial support to the P.A. as long as it continues to pay monthly salaries to terrorists and their families.
U.S. sources claim that to unfreeze U.S. aid, Biden must persuade Congress and invoke a clause in the U.S. Constitution that states that foreign relations are under the president’s authority. This claim has been made throughout the last century with little success since the Constitution gives Congress the power to approve or block appropriations.
According to P.A. officials, several members of Congress who met in July with the Abbas and Civil Affairs Minister al-Sheikh demanded that the allowances to terrorists and their families be converted to a social benefit unrelated to the number of years the terrorists sat in Israeli prisons. The Congress members also urged the P.A. to halt all its activities against Israel at the International Court of Justice.
Abbas is not interested in a diplomatic falling-out with the Biden administration. He knows that he cannot get anything better at the moment, so he is trying to bypass the administration by appealing to Russia to reinvigorate the Quartet to secure its political goals.
It is highly doubtful that his efforts will succeed, but he is trying to show that he is doing everything possible to break the impasse in the political process. The P.A. is in the midst of a severe financial crisis. There are steep price increases in the West Bank markets, popular anger is growing, and no Arab country is willing to come to the P.A.’s rescue financially. Abbas is urgently seeking an achievement.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.