Palestinian Authority Reaches Understandings With Biden Staff

Jack Khoury
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 22, 2020.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 22, 2020.Credit: Majdi Mohammed,AP
Jack Khoury

Senior Palestinian Authority officials have begun talks with associates of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, according to Western diplomats who heard this from their Palestinian counterparts and associates of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to the diplomats, preparations are being made for a phone conversation between the two leaders, after Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Monday.

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The deputy head of Fatah, Mahmoud Alalul, said Monday that the Palestinian Authority leadership has come to several understandings with Biden’s staff about various decisions made by the Trump administration on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Alalul, a senior PA official who is close to Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio that the understandings are about the definition of settlement products as made in Israel and the recognition of those born in East Jerusalem as Israelis.

At the same time, he described President Donald Trump as a wounded animal and expressed concern about diplomatic moves the outgoing administration might make. “We don’t want to be hasty,” he added. “We must wait until the pandemic of the Trump administration passes.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki described Biden’s election as a window of opportunity, which the PA plans to use to turn a new leaf in relations with the U.S.

Abbas’ bureau expressed satisfaction with the nomination of Antony Blinken as U.S. secretary of state. During the Obama administration, Blinken was Vice President Biden’s national security adviser and undersecretary to Secretary of State John Kerry.

President-elect Joe Biden waves as he arrives at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, November 23, 2020. Credit: Carolyn Kaster,AP

Sources in Ramallah described Blinken as “a man who knows what’s what and is familiar with the details of the conflict.” The Palestinian leadership was also pleased that Biden has named Reema Dodin, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, to his staff. A PA source described Dodin as “connected to her roots.”

Political and diplomatic sources in Ramallah are linking the optimism being expressed by PA officials to the resumption of coordination with Israel, which they see as a positive sign and a confidence-building gesture toward the new administration.

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Monday that as per the understandings with Israel, Jerusalem is to freeze construction in the settlements, release prisoners and allow the PA to open its institutions in East Jerusalem. However, he didn’t say that Israel had committed to doing these things.

Shtayyeh added that the understandings would lead to the transfer of the taxes Israel collects for the PA, which will enable it to pay salaries, pay off debts and funnel money into the health system.

He said that this wasn’t an Israeli gesture since the funds belong to the Palestinians, and the PA expects to get them without any offsetting or “extortion,” as he put it. Nevertheless, he did mention the possibility that the funds would not be transferred in their entirety.

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