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New Memo Reveals Biden Administration Seeks to ‘Reset’ Relations with Palestinians

03-18-2021
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President Joe Biden (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

JERUSALEM, Israel – An internal memo obtained by The National, an English-language news outlet based in the United Arab Emirates, reveals that the Biden administration is looking to “reset” relations with the Palestinians after they deteriorated under his predecessor.

The memo, titled “The Palestinian Reset and the Path Forward,” was reportedly drafted by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, and presented to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The memo includes a plan to give $15 million in COVID-19 assistance to Palestinians and recommends the Biden administration promote a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps and agreements on security and refugees.” The 1967 lines refer to the armistice lines from before the Six-Day War, when Israel captured Gaza from Egypt, the West Bank – biblical Judea and Samaria – from Jordan, and eastern Jerusalem.

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This peace formula along the 1967 lines is unpopular in Israel, especially among the political right.

Former President Donald Trump’s peace plan also called for two states, but his plan heavily favored Israel and ignored key Palestinian demands. The plan was celebrated by Israeli leaders, but the Palestinians rejected it.

The memo says the Biden administration’s goal is “to advance freedom, security, and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians in the immediate term which is important in its own right, but also as means to advance the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution.”

The memo discusses rolling back Trump-era policies that Washington believes are barriers to achieving their two-state solution, “such as country of origin labeling.”

This refers to a last-minute Trump policy that requires all US exports from West Bank settlement communities to be labeled “Made in Israel.” The international community considers Israeli settlements, which range from several outposts to entire communities, to be illegal under international law. This view was held by the US until November 2019, when the Trump administration declared "the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law."

The Biden administration also seeks to re-establish diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority. The PA cut ties with the Trump administration in 2017 when it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump shuttered the Palestinian Liberation Office in Washington in 2018 and relocated the US consulate in Jerusalem's operations to the new embassy. The consulate long served as the de facto embassy to the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem.  

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“As we reset US relations with the Palestinians, the Palestinian body politic is at an inflection point as it moves towards its first elections in 15 years,” the memo reads. “At the same time, we [the US] suffer from a lack of connective tissue following the 2018 closure of the PLO office in Washington and refusal of Palestinian Authority leadership to directly engage with our embassy to Israel.”

The memo also touched on improving Israel’s relations with Arab countries in the region and addressing Palestinian incitement to violence. Like the Trump administration, Biden also condemns the PA’s policy of giving payments to terrorists. The memo said the administration seeks “to obtain a Palestinian commitment to end payments to individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”

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