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Biden-Harris Left with Major Cleanup of Trump Disasters in Israeli-Palestinian Relations

posted on: Feb 3, 2021

Ending illegal settlements from the Trump era is one of Biden’s cleanup tasks Photo NBC News

By John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

Biden to resume U.S. aid to Palestinians despite Republican objection

The Biden administration has decided to resume U.S. payments to Palestinians that the Trump administration had canceled on the premise that the Palestinian Authority had violated the Taylor Force act. This is legislation that limits funding to the Authority because of its payments to so-called terrorists and their families. The new administration insists it will comply with the act while at the same time restoring basic humanitarian aid such as food, health, and basic education assistance to Palestinians.  

The U.S. intention to reopen Palestinian diplomatic missions closed by the Trump administration, recently reported by Haaretz, will also include restoring U.S. aid “in order to create a stable environment, rather than strictly doing favors for Palestinian leadership.” Under Trump, some $360 million on annual funding to the Palestinians through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) had been arbitrarily cut. The Biden administration has promised continuation of the aid, according to the U.S. acting Ambassador to the UN.

It is not like this is a new stream of money for humanitarian and economic projects in the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, it is part of a long line of funding amounting to over $5.5 billion to the Palestinian people since 1994. Ultimately, such funding has been aimed at uplifting the Palestinians so that one day they can stand on their very own as an independent state, side-by-side with Israel.

Support for Palestine is one of Biden’s “paybacks” to Arab Americans Photo Logos

In last-minute effort to please Israel, Trump continued to subvert Israeli-Palestinian relations

On the verge of a probable Biden victory, Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to make things worse, mainly through further changes on the ground that benefitted settlers in the West Bank. Arab American James Zogby, in The Nation, delineated the Trump-Netanyahu plans to further erode Palestinian rights. Here is just a sample of them:

  • Addition of 1,257 settlement housing units in an area permanently severing Bethlehem from Jerusalem
  • 4,948 housing units in the settlements, “most between Ramallah and Nablus, thickening the settler presence in the heart of the West Bank”
  • Demolition of Palestinian villages and seizure of their homes in areas Israel wants for further expansion and control of in the areas of Jerusalem, Jordan Valley, and northern West Bank
  • Destruction of schools and field hospitals funded by the European Union and
  • A future plan to legalize 1,700 settlement housing units previously built without permits
Even after Biden victory, collusion to favor Israel’s position in the West Bank continued Photo Israel news agency

In the post-election victory period, the Trump administration also decided to give further legitimacy to Israeli occupation of the West Bank by earmarking U.S. funding for settlements. Zogby characterizes these moves as a kind of “creeping annexation.” They would add up to a legitimization of “Israeli’s entire settlement enterprise,” in effect giving the Jewish state sovereignty over Palestinian land.

The steep climb to Israeli-Palestinian “normalcy”—if there is such a thing

Trump’s last minute, post-election shenanigans have only added to any attempt by the Biden team to return to the status quo—a huge headache for the new President. They are not so easily reversible and, furthermore they reflect generations of U.S. administrations’ neglect of Israeli expansion of their settlement plan. Such neglect, also according to Zogby, was a result of “sins of omission,” contrasted with Trump’s “more grievous sins of commission.”

How all of this ties to some possible two-state solution is elusive. After four years of Trump administration attempts to peel away any remaining cohesion of Palestinian society, has left it fractured and disconnected. The Trump-Netanyahu alliance has only augmented preceding years of failed U.S policy towards Palestinians.

Restoration of UNWRA assistance to Palestinians in basic services is a Biden-Harris promise Photo Common Dreams

Today, Jewish-only roads, other infrastructure, and new or enlarged settlements have virtually divided the communities making up Palestinian society into their own little Bantustans. They are left being unable to connect with each other, much less with the larger Jewish state.

Under conditions that are growing more and more difficult for Palestinian society, it is hard to see any semblance of a future Palestinian state. First, is a state that is contiguous or all of one piece; second, one that is viable, in terms of established borders; and third, a state under these conditions that can manage its very own sovereignty.

Making up for lost time

Biden will at minimum need to insist on opposing any new Israeli settlement activity to end the growing annexation of Palestinian land and destruction of their homes. This means holding Israel accountable for its breaches and responding accordingly through leveraging U.S. assistance.

Reversing Trump’s denial that the Palestinian territories are “occupied” is another abuse that must be addressed. As mentioned earlier, continuation of U.S. aid to the Palestinians through UNWRA is essential.

Finally, the U.S. must enforce internationally recognized principles and rights in the face of Israeli violations. It must carry out many more concrete acts than are suggested here to erase four years of Trump’s trampling of Palestinians’ rights. We have proposed only a sampling of the necessary reversals in policy acts that comprise the long haul of the disaster cleanup.


“Biden Has to Clean Up Trump’s Mess in the Middle East. There’s Plenty of It,” Haaretz, 1/25/2021

What Biden Can Do About the Israeli-Palestinian Mess He’ll Inherit,” James Zogby, The Nation 11/23/1010

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He did fieldwork in an east Libyan Saharan oasis and has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo. John served with the United Nations as an official in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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