Unreasonable laws blocking path to US-Palestinian rapprochement
Throughout his campaign for the US presidency, Joe Biden made specific promises to the electorate, among them a number of foreign policy pledges. On the conflict in the Middle East, Biden promised to reverse some of the far-reaching decisions of his predecessor, such as closing the Palestinian mission in Washington and its counterpart, the American mission in Jerusalem.
Since taking office in January, his administration has been slowly delivering on some of these promises, such as re-establishing humanitarian aid for the Palestinians. In return, the Palestinians, who had boycotted all US officials, have agreed to re-establish diplomatic and security contacts with the Americans.
There are plenty of benefits from a vibrant US-Palestinian relationship. It is a natural act that reflects respect and understanding and paves the way for direct high-level engagement between Washington and the legitimate Palestinian representatives.
Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization exchanged letters of recognition in 1993. That event, witnessed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, was memorialized at the White House lawn with the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. That ceremony ushered in a period of dialogue that included the establishment of proper relations between American and Palestinian representatives. Unfortunately, the pro-Israel US Congress has attempted to do Israel’s work rather than the work of peace and that of America’s national interests.
Proper Palestinian-American relations are a natural development when it comes to the positive role they have on lowering tensions not only in Palestine/Israel, but throughout the region. The injustice that Palestinians suffer at the hands of America’s ally has been the most effective source of extremist recruitment in this region.
The Palestinians agreed to open a mission in Washington in 1994, even though it was under the cloud of the unreasonable condition of needing a presidential waiver every six months. No other mission in Washington has to abide by such a humiliating condition. But the Palestinians badly wanted to end decades of unjust Israeli occupation and colonial settlements, so they reluctantly accepted such restrictions based on the promise that an independent Palestinian state would emerge at the end of US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian talks. This did not happen because, as former US Secretary of State John Kerry declared in Congress in 2014, the Israeli settlement ambitions for Palestinian lands destroyed hopes for peace and what is often called the two-state solution. The peace talks “went puff,” said Kerry, after Israel made yet another illegal settlement expansion in the very territories that were being negotiated as part of the independent Palestinian state.
The Biden administration had promised to support precisely that two-state plan, which would naturally require Washington to recognize and engage with the Palestinian aspect of the solution. The Israeli part of the two-state solution has long been around and receives a huge amount of financial, political and military aid from the US.
Unfortunately, anti-peace elements in the US don’t want to see genuine progress in the peace talks and therefore have been searching for ways to derail the attempts by Biden’s team to fulfill his promise of reopening the Palestinian mission. New humiliating conditions are being carbon copied from the Israeli right-wing playbook and presented as legitimate.
Liberation movements around the world take care of their own, particularly those who make personal sacrifices for their nation. The Palestinian Basic Law, which was initiated after that White House handshake, contains mandatory conditions to establish a fund to support any Palestinians and their families who have been imprisoned or who have paid the ultimate price. Demanding that Palestinians disenfranchise their own for the sake of an office in Washington would be a violation of Article 22 of that Palestinian Basic Law, which was passed without any objection by Israel or the US at the time.
Demanding that Palestinians disenfranchise their own for the sake of an office in Washington would be a violation of Article 22 of that Palestinian Basic Law.
Any change to this constitutionally mandated committee to support prisoners and martyrs would need a two-thirds vote of the Palestinian legislature. Elections are due on May 22, unless Israel violates its own agreement and prevents Palestinians, including Jerusalemites, from carrying out their natural right. Americans, especially Democrats, who have championed voter rights and opposed voter suppression in Georgia and other states should support the upcoming poll and not turn a blind eye to Israeli obstructionism.
Belated conditionality on the reopening of the Palestinian mission is not only humiliating but would weaken the very Palestinian leadership that needs to make the “peace of the brave,” as the late Arafat called it. America has never made such humiliating conditions on a single friend or foe. It was not demanded of South Africa’s African National Congress, the Vietnamese or anyone else. Why can’t American officials for once resist the pressure from the discredited pro-Israel lobby, which has done so much to undercut US interests?
The Palestinians are a proud people and their struggle for liberation and freedom will continue regardless of whether or not the US allows them to have a proper mission in Washington. Conversely, supporting the chance for accessible communication could go a long way toward improving the atmosphere and preparing the ground for talks that could lead to an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside a safe and secure Israel on its internationally recognized pre-June 1967 borders.
- Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab