United States President Joe Biden’s Middle East policy “will be to support a mutually agreed, two-state solution, in which Israel lives in peace and security, alongside a viable Palestinian state”, acting US Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills has told the UN Security Council.
“The President’s view continues to be that a two-state solution is the only path forward,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki added.
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Mills said the Biden administration intends to restore Palestinian aid and take steps to reopen diplomatic missions closed by the Trump administration and will continue to urge other countries to normalise ties with Israel.
“In order to advance these objectives the Biden administration will restore credible US engagement with Palestinians as well as Israelis,” Mills said.
“This will involve renewing US relations with the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people,” he said.
“President Biden has been clear that he intends to restore US 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 US administration,” Mills added.
He added the administration recognises that is “not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace”.
The announcement is the beginning of what is expected to be a reset from the policies of former President Donald Trump’s administration, which offered vast support to Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often at the expense of Palestinian rights.
Biden is expected to take a more middle of the road approach to the conflict akin to previous Democratic administrations.
Trump and Israel
While the Trump administration has been widely hailed in the US for the normalisation agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, the rights of Palestinians had been largely ignored since Trump took office in 2017.
Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, in a move denounced by Palestinian leaders, who want occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
He also cut off $360m annual funding to UNRWA, the United Nations agency providing support for Palestinian refugees; reduced other aid to the Palestinians and shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, DC.
In 2019, Trump went against international consensus and recognised Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided capital” and its decades-long occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights. The administration also supported Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories that are considered illegal under international law.
In 2020, the Trump administration released its long-promised “Middle East plan“, which critics said amounted to “apartheid” of the Palestinian people.
Domestically, Trump signed an executive order aimed at silencing supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on US college campuses.
No overhaul of US approach expected
Biden is expected to remain a staunch supporter of Israel, but a less politically-expedient ally to Netanyahu. His administration is expected to reaffirm the long-held US position that Israeli settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace and return to other internationally-recognised positions on Israeli sovereignty.
However, during his confirmation hearing last week, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said the US would keep its embassy in Jerusalem.
Blinken also reiterated his support for a two-state solution, but added: “Realistically, it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.”
“What would be important is to make sure that neither party takes steps that make the already difficult process even more challenging,” he said.
The Biden administration is also expected to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council, which the Trump administration withdrew from, accusing it of “chronic bias” against Israel.