الرئيسية » هاني المصري »   13 تشرين الثاني 2020

| | |
هاني المصري

"Trump's loss is undoubtedly good news for over half of Americans, most of the world, and the Palestinians, since he is the worst of U.S. presidents," maintains leading Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian news portal Arab 48. 

This is evident from the unprecedented steps he took in support of Israel, his adoption of the Israeli Zionist right-wing view of the conflict and how to resolve it, and the vision he proposed with the goal of liquidating the Palestinian cause, which he has made significant strides on the path to implementing. The fact that over 70% of Israeli Jews preferred Trump to win shows just how much they value him, contrary to the 77% of American Jews who voted for Biden. 

Biden's victory means Trump's vision and the annexation plan will be taken off the table, unless Trump and Netanyahu seek to implement it in whole or in part during the transitional period that ends with the new president taking office on January 20th. But while total or partial annexation of the designated [West Bank] areas may be possible during this period, it is unlikely, because Israel is presumably not so foolish as to begin the new president's term with great defiance, thereby aggravating relations with him and as well as with the Jews and Zionists who are opposed to annexation and the Arab countries that have normalized relations with Israel or may do so in the future. 

The above does not mean that U.S. policy will be good for the Palestinians. It is fundamentally supportive of Israel, and U.S. presidents differ in their policies and procedures but not on this fundamental principle, although Trump has gone further in supporting Israel than all his predecessors.

The features of the forthcoming U.S. policy on the Palestinian are evident from the Biden's campaign proposals and VP-elect Kamala Harris's post-victory statements. This means the Palestinian president and Palestinians in general may breathe a sigh of relief, as the PLO mission's Washington office will reopen its doors, U.S. aid to the PA and UNRWA will resume along with efforts to revive the political process to reach a two-state solution, and unilateral steps from either side will no longer be condoned. 

The PA can justifiably relax because attempts to pressure it to accept Trump's vision and the annexation plan will cease, as will attempts to replace the Palestinian leadership with an alternative that is prepared to accept them. However, it will continue to face pressure to abide by its Oslo commitments, and settler-colonialist expansion will continue with the U.S. neither encouraging it nor exerting real pressure to prevent it.

This means that the PA can be assured of its survival in the Biden era. However, that begs the question: Is the Palestinian national goal its survival, which entails maintaining the status quo with all the entailed disadvantages, most critically ongoing deterioration, only at a slower pace and the cause's liquidation gradually instead of in one fell swoop? Or is the goal to adopt a new approach that prevents the delusions, miscalculations, and failed assessments of the past that led us to our current catastrophic conditions from recurring, and that is capable of ending the occupation and establishing the state accorded UN observer status and recognized by some 140 countries worldwide? 

Based on the above, what scenarios may play out in the wake of Biden's victory?

In the first scenario, the situation will revert to how it was during the Obama era. This assumes a return to the policy of managing the conflict rather than striving to resolve it based on the Israeli right-wing vision, as Trump and Netanyahu sought to do. As we all know, Obama expressed regret for poking 'the hornet's nest' when he tried to find a solution.

This is the most likely scenario. It is strongly reinforced by the fact that Biden's priorities, for his first year in office at least, will not remotely involve concentrating on resolving an issue for which no solution has been found for a hundred years. He will also avoid engaging with it given the huge obstacle posed by Israel's hardline government, which is embroiled in several crises that will precipitate Israeli elections next year in which the same Israeli right-wing led by Netanyahu, or another no less hardline leader like [Israel Beitenu Party leader] Naftali Bennett or [senior Likud politician] Gideon Sa'ar, is likely to win. 

Moreover, the Palestinian president [Mahmoud 'Abbas] is approaching the end of his rule, and the struggle over the succession, even behind the scenes, constrains the ability to take major steps and initiatives, especially those involving major Palestinian concessions with which President Biden can arm himself, encouraging him to take risks and try to reach a solution.

Furthermore, the Palestinian [Hamas/Fatah] split remains. Both sides squandered a golden opportunity for unity in the presence of a U.S. president who rolled out a vision and took steps opposed by all Palestinians. Now they may differ over whatever Biden proposes. 

The matter is further complicated by President 'Abbas's proposal to hold an international conference on the basis of international legitimacy, break the U.S.'s monopoly on sponsoring negotiations, and release the Palestinians from their signed agreements. This is far from acceptable to Biden, who endorses a return to bilateral negotiations with active U.S. sponsorship whereas International Quartet [U.S./Russia/EU/UN] sponsorship merely serves as false witness and a launching pad on the grounds that negotiations will be bound by their own terms of reference. This will not lead to a resolution, and in the best of circumstances it will only contain the situation and prevent its collapse.

This scenario would involve direct or indirect Palestinian and Israeli meetings and visits to Washington, as well the U.S. Secretary of State and his appointed peace team shuttling back and forth. But it is an unholy endeavor and a process devoid of peace that aims to contain the situation, legitimize it, and fortify it so as to prevent its collapse. It will also complicate prospects of [inter-Palestinian] reconciliation and holding Palestinian elections, except as pertains to consolidating the Oslo PA, managing the split, and softening Hamas's positions.

The second scenario involves Biden striking the iron while it is hot. 

In this scenario, the new U.S. president strikes the iron while it is hot, taking advantage of the Arab rush to normalization and the widespread global rejection, even from Zionists, of Trump's vision and the annexation plan for a variety of reasons, including for instance, that it would open a path to the establishment of a single state, thereby tainting the Jewish state's 'purity', or to demarcating Israel's borders by establishing a Palestinian state on part of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at a time while the most hardline Zionists want to leave the door open to mass expulsion of Palestinians, even those with Israeli citizenship, to enable the establishment of 'Greater Israel' with the least possible Palestinian population. This is the purpose behind proposed plans such as an 'alternative homeland' in Jordan, expansion into Sinai to establish a Palestinian state there, and the 'seven emirates' [semi-autonomous Palestinian localities] plan among others.

This is an unlikely scenario, especially since Biden will take care not to anger Israel again, as his anticipated revival of the nuclear deal with Iran will be sure to enrage it. Biden can make greater progress in the political process if reports that the PA will resume security and civil coordination [with Israel], unilaterally return to Oslo (a fatal mistake, if it occurs), and receive [Israeli-held] tax allocations (a longstanding demand, as they are Palestinian funds) immediately before Biden takes office, are correct. According to this scenario, the PA will offer new concessions at length to enable a solution that involves a 'state' over an area that is a compromise between the Clinton Parameters and Trump's vision. In this case, the prospect of reconciliation and elections will become more remote.

In order for this scenario to proceed, it requires the Palestinians, especially the president, to make a decision to take what they can get. It also either requires Palestinian unity based on a flexible, lesser [national] program that accommodates the Quartet's conditions or their approximations, or a strike against Hamas and other forces in the Gaza Strip so as to incapacitate them from foiling this scenario. This is also unlikely because the costs to the U.S., Israelis, and Palestinians are not feasible. 

In the third scenario, a Palestinian, Israeli, or Arab breakthrough would occur. 

This is the least likely scenario, as it assumes the Palestinians would take to heart the lesson from previous experiences that clinging to a negotiated resolution is pointless as long as Israel is not open to a fair or balanced settlement, or to realizing any acceptable measure of Palestinian rights. There is nothing to tempt or motivate Israel here, especially after it has secured Arab normalization free of charge other than a delay in annexation. On the contrary, normalization may carry on, albeit at a slower pace, given Biden's stance towards several Arab countries on the issue of liberties and human rights and the possibility that he may return to Obama's policy of integrating 'moderate political Islamism' into existing Arab political regimes, with the entailed turmoil and demarcation of a new Middle East.

Israel and several Arab countries may also accelerate normalization and alliance-building to take a stand against the U.S.'s efforts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran and try to fill the vacuum arising from the U.S.'s waning interest in the region for a plethora of reasons there is no room to go into here. 

This scenario would come to pass if the Palestinians come to recognize the importance of adopting a new approach that banks mainly on self-reliance, prioritizes unifying the Palestinians and turning them into a single, effective, proactive player capable of making the occupation costly to Israel, thereby providing an incentive to the Arabs and friends of the Palestinian cause, the world, and the U.S. administration to intervene with Israel and compel it to accept a settlement that involves establishing a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. 

Although preferable and desirable, this scenario is currently unlikely, at least in the immediate future. First, it requires a major change in Palestine in terms of adopting a comprehensive vision that gives rise to a new strategy and a leadership capable of assuming responsibility and maintaining the required will. It also requires changing the PA and its status and placing it in service of the joint national program as a tool in the hands of a united PLO that has been reconstituted to include all shades of the political and social spectrum. 

There would also need to be a change in Israel, which is a remote possibility, as well as an increasingly necessary Arab change, and who knows when that will happen given what ended up happening with the Arab Spring, where revolution competed with conspiracy and the latter ultimately triumphed, also for a plethora of reasons there is no room to go into here.

"In this scenario, unity is necessary, and elections are integral to the struggle as part of the comprehensive package I have long advocated," concludes Masri.