U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to Washington disappointed following his meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, which was intended to bring about calm in the Palestinian territories and restore security coordination with Israel.
Senior P.A. officials said that the meeting between the two men ended without results, but that Abbas had agreed that two senior American diplomats, Barbara Leaf, the assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, and Hady Amr, the special representative for Palestinian Affairs, would remain in Israel to continue talks with senior P.A. officials and security figures in Israel on ways to calm the security situation. Israel agreed as well.
According to Palestinian sources, Blinken did not present any political perspective in his meeting with the P.A. chairman. Instead, he offered the Palestinians $50 million in financial aid to be transferred to UNRWA, and the upgrade of the Palestinian cellular network to 4G.
Blinken reportedly completely ignored the issues of opening the American consulate in eastern Jerusalem and opening PLO offices in Washington.
American sources said the Biden administration fears the outbreak of a third intifada and is therefore investing political capital to calm the security situation.
Egypt and Jordan joined the American effort and sent the head of Egyptian intelligence, Abbas Kamel, and the head of Jordanian intelligence, Ahmed Housni, to Ramallah. The two met with Abbas, but also failed to achieve a breakthrough.
Blinken presented Abbas with a security plan written by U.S. Lt.-Gen. Michael Fenzel, the coordinator between the American administration and the P.A. security forces, to restore P.A. control over Nablus and Jenin. The plan was acceptable to Israel, and includes the establishment of a special P.A. security force that will be trained by the Americans in Jordan and deployed in Nablus and Jenin to fight armed terrorist groups.
Abbas expressed reservations about the American plan, however, and refused to approve it.
In talks with the American team, senior PLO officials, led by Hussein al-Sheikh, secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee, set a series of conditions for renewing security coordination with Israel:
• Cessation of Israel’s unilateral measures.
• Cancellation of Israel’s sanctions on the P.A.
• Stopping the entry of IDF forces into Area A of the West Bank.
• Termination of plans to expand settlements.
• Stopping the demolition of illegal housing in eastern Jerusalem.
• Maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount.
The visit of a U.S. Secretary of State to Ramallah is like giving a placebo to a terminally ill patient, or attempting to inject more oxygen into the respirator just barely keeping the P.A. alive.
It is very doubtful whether the Biden administration will be able to prevent a major outbreak of violence in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria ahead of Ramadan.
The Palestinian demands from Israel are not acceptable to the Netanyahu government, but Israel nevertheless continues the diplomatic game. The P.A. chairman is not ready to fight against the armed terrorist groups in the territories, which he allowed to grow unimpeded, in clear violation of the Oslo agreements.
Senior P.A. officials say that the Biden administration wants calm in the West Bank without being willing to pay the political price required by the P.A.
The armed terrorist groups in northern Samaria are pleased with the failure of Blinken’s visit to the region and have announced that they will continue their operations against Israel.
Concern over escalation is greater than ever.
Yoni Ben-Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.