Edited by: TJVNews.com
President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday it was restoring relations with the Palestinians and renewing aid to Palestinian refugees which represents a reversal of the Trump administration’s cutoff. It is also a key element of its new support for a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, as was reported by the AP.
Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills made the announcement of Biden’s approach to a high-level virtual Security Council meeting, saying the new U.S. administration believes this “remains the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state while upholding the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for a state of their own and to live with dignity and security.”
President Donald Trump’s administration provided unprecedented support to Israel, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, slashing financial assistance for the Palestinians and reversing course on Israeli settlements on land erroneously claimed by the Palestinians.
Israel captured east Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria in the 1967 war. The international community considers both areas to be occupied territory, and the Palestinians seek them as parts of a future independent state. Israel has built a far-flung network of settlements that house nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem since their capture in June of 1967.
AP reported that the peace plan unveiled by Trump a year ago envisions a Palestinian state that turns over key parts of the Judea and Samaria to Israel, siding with Israel on key contentious issues including borders and the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements. It was vehemently rejected by the Palestinians.
Mills made clear the Biden administration’s more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Under the new administration, the policy of the United States will be to support a mutually agreed two-state solution, one in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state,” he said.
AP reported that Mills said peace can’t be imposed on either side and stressed that progress and an ultimate solution require the participation and agreement of Israelis and Palestinians.
“In order to advance these objectives, the Biden administration will restore credible U.S. engagement with Palestinians as well as Israelis,” he said.
“This will involve renewing U.S. relations with the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people,” Mills said.
“President Biden has been clear that he intends to restore U.S. assistance programs that support economic development programs and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, and to take steps to reopen diplomatic relations that were closed by the last U.S. administration,” Mills said, according to the AP report.
Trump cut off funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA, which was established to purportedly aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948. It provides education, health care, food and other assistance to some 5.5 million refugees and their descendants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The U.S. was UNRWA’s major donor and the loss of funds has created a financial crisis for the agency.
AP reported that the Trump administration closed the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington in September 2018, effectively shutting down the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission to the United States.
Mills said the United States hopes to start working to slowly build confidence on both sides to create an environment to reach a two-state solution.
To pursue this goal, Mills said, “the United States will urge Israel’s government and the Palestinians to avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult, such as annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism.”
Israel has accused the Palestinians of inciting violence and has vehemently objected to the Palestinian Authority paying families of those imprisoned for attacking or killing Israelis, as was reported by the AP.
Mills stressed that “the U.S. will maintain its steadfast support for Israel” — opposing one-sided resolutions and other actions in international bodies that unfairly single out Israel and promoting Israel’s standing and participation at the U.N. and other international organizations.
AP reported that the Biden administration welcomes the recent normalization of relations between Israel and a number of Arab nations and will urge other countries to establish ties, Mills said.
“Yet, we recognize that Arab-Israeli normalization is not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace,” he said.
Mills stressed that the fraught state of Israeli-Palestinian politics, and the fact that trust between the two sides “is at a nadir,” don’t relieve U.N. member nations “of the responsibility of trying to preserve the viability of a two-state solution.”
AP reported that before Mills spoke, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki sharply criticized the Trump administration for using “the United States’ might and influence to support Israel’s unlawful efforts to entrench its occupation and control” and reiterated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ hopes “for the resumption of relations and positive engagement.”
“Now is the time to heal and repair the damage left by the previous U.S. administration,” he said. “We look forward to the reversal of the unlawful and hostile measures undertaken by the Trump administration and to working together for peace.”
Malki called for revival of the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia — and reiterated Abbas’ call for an international peace conference “that can signal a turning point in this conflict.” He also expressed hope that “the U.S. will play an important role in multilateral efforts for peace in the Middle East.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow is convinced that the Quartet, working closely with both sides and Arab states, “can play a very, very effective role.”
In support of Abbas’ call for an international conference, Lavrov proposed holding a ministerial meeting this spring or summer with the Quartet and Egypt, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as well as Saudi Arabia to analyze the current situation and assist “in launching a dialogue” between Israeli’s and Palestinians.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said “Palestinians suffered from unprecedented pressure from the former U.S. administration” and said the organization’s 22 members look forward to Biden correcting Trump’s actions and working with international and regional parties to relaunch “a serious peace process.”
AP reported that Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the council that instead of focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it should focus on Iran, which “does not try to hide its intention of destroying the world’s only Jewish state.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he suggested that the council discuss what he called “the real obstacles to peace: Palestinian incitement and culture of hate,” according to the AP report.
Israel remains willing to make peace “when there is a willing partner,” Erdan said, accusing Abbas of inciting violence, and saying he should come to the negotiating table “without making outrageous demands and not call for another pointless international conference … (which) is just a distraction.”
Israel National News reported on Tuesday that IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi warned the Biden Administration not to return to the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal in an address to the Institute for National Security Studies (NSS) Tuesday.
“I would like to clarify my position regarding the JCPOA”, he said, according to the INN report. “Even if an improved agreement is reached, it will be a bad agreement at the operational and strategic level. Therefore, such an agreement must not be enable”
“If the 2015 nuclear deal had been implemented, Iran eventually would have been able to construct a bomb, because the agreement did not include restrictions and oversight to prevent it. Anything similar to the current agreement or even an improved agreement would be unacceptable and should not be allowed,” he said, as was reported by INN.
“Iran is not only a threat to Israel, it is a threat to the entire world. If the Iran deal of 2015 had materialized, ultimately Iran could have obtained a bomb. The Iran of today is not the Iran of 2015 when the JCPOA was signed,” Kochavi added, according to the INN report.
INN reported that Kochavi also addressed the threats facing Israel from the north and the south. “In the next war, we will alert populations in Lebanon and in Gaza the moment tensions begin that they must leave areas in which rockets and missiles are being stored,” he said,
“The enemy chose to entrench itself and its weapons, including missiles and rockets, in urban areas. They deliberately ignore international law; the clearest proof of this is that they intend to fire all these missiles toward Afula, Metula and Gush Dan. They have dispersed and decentralized all their networks, so it is imperative to adapt both the State of Israel, the IDF, and the international community to this reality.
“The changing nature of the battlefield requires changes of us as well. We must expose the capabilities of our enemies more effectively, and this is the essence of our multi-year plan,” he said,
INN reported that he called on Hamas to return the Israeli soldiers and civilians currently being held in Gaza. “To the inhabitants of Gaza, I say that your quality of life can be vastly improved–but not until our missing soldiers are returned to us.”
He warned Israel’s citizens that should a war break out, many missiles and rockets would fall on Israel’s population centers, as was reported by INN. “This is an opportunity and an obligation for me to remind the citizens of the State of Israel as clearly as possible that on D-Day, during a war, many missiles and rockets will explode here and it won’t be easy.”
“In the face of these threats, we will respond with an extremely significant counterattack that will include targeting rockets, missiles and weapons, whether in open areas, or adjacent to and inside buildings,” Kochavi declared, as was reported by INN.
In a related development, AP reported that on Tuesday the Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as America’s top diplomat, tasked with carrying out President Biden’s commitment to reverse the Trump administration’s “America First” doctrine that allegedly weakened international alliances.
Senators voted 78-22 to approve Blinken, a longtime Biden confidant, as the nation’s 71st secretary of state, succeeding Mike Pompeo. The position is the most senior Cabinet position, with the secretary fourth in the line of presidential succession.
Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration. He has pledged to be a leading force in the administration’s bid to reframe the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances. He is expected to start work on Wednesday after being sworn in, according to State Department officials.
Despite promising renewed American leadership and an emphasis on shoring up strained ties with allies in Europe and Asia, Blinken told lawmakers that he agreed with many of Trump’s foreign policy initiatives. He backed the so-called Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab states, and a tough stance on China over human rights and its assertiveness in the South China Sea, as was reported the AP.
He did, however, signal that the Biden administration is interested in bringing Iran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew in 2018.
Trump’s secretaries of state nominees met with significant opposition from Democrats. Trump’s first nominee for the job, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was approved by a 56 to 43 vote and served only 13 months before Trump fired him in tweet. His successor, Pompeo, was confirmed in a 57-42 vote.
Opposition to Blinken centered on Iran policy and concerns among conservatives that he will abandon Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, as was reported by the AP.
Blinken inherits a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Neither Tillerson nor Pompeo offered strong resistance to the Trump administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
(AP & INN)