23 November, 2020
Dear Mr. Blinken,
Like many US advocacy organizations that focus on foreign policy, we are delighted at the promise of change that your new administration brings.
While we are well aware of the challenges and priorities that your administration faces, both domestically and overseas, we urge you to keep Israeli-Palestinian relations high up on your agenda. Should you conclude that the time is not ripe now for a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, we urge you to consider that time is running out on the two-state solution that President-elect Biden strongly supports. Developments on the ground – sanctioned and even encouraged by the outgoing administration – are severely jeopardizing a future two-state solution to the conflict. They must be reversed.
We at Americans for Peace now, the sister-organization of Israel’s peace movement Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), are writing to share with you our alarm at the current state of US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, to offer some initial actions to address the wreckage left behind by the Trump administration, and to affirm our commitment to work closely with the Biden-Harris transition team, and subsequently with the new administration, to advance the cause of Palestinian-Israeli peace.
A good first step for the Biden administration in that direction would be pushing the restart button on US-Palestinian relations: resuming diplomacy, reactivating USAID operations in the West Bank, re-engaging with the United Nations’ Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) to resume US assistance to Palestinian refugees, and helping the Palestinian Authority and Israel reengage on vital matters such as security, health, and the environment. We strongly recommend formalizing US-Palestinian diplomatic relations by opening a dedicated consulate in East Jerusalem and allowing the Palestinian leadership to re-open its diplomatic mission in Washington. Some of these steps are relatively simple to take, while others are more complicated. All of them are doable and critically important.
Going forward, we believe that reengagement with the Palestinians – like other actions taken regarding the conflict -- should be aimed at keeping the path open for a two-state solution, and, indeed, at accelerating progress toward the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable Palestinian state that would live in peace and security, side-by-side with the state of Israel. Such a policy would include renewing (and hopefully redoubling) US support for Palestinian state-institution building, support for Palestinian elections and other democratic institutions and practices, and support for normalizing – both in the United States and internationally – the concept of Palestinian statehood, sovereignty, and independence.
To keep a path open for the ultimate creation of a Palestinian state, it is imperative that Israel stop settlement expansion, cease measures aimed at de facto annexation of the West Bank to Israel, and abandon the idea of de jure annexation of the West Bank or parts of it to the state of Israel. It must be made abundantly clear to Israel’s leaders and the Israeli public that the Trump administration’s policy on settlements and annexation was an aberration, a deviation from the traditional policy of the United States, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. The US government does not legitimize settlements and does not endorse unilateral annexation.
We therefore trust that the Biden administration will repudiate the Trump administration’s January 2020 so-called “Peace to Prosperity” proposal, and shall not view it as terms of reference for any future Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.
Clearing a path to future negotiations over a two-state solution requires rebuilding trust not only between the US administration and the Palestinians, but also between Israel and the Palestinians. The most important first step a Biden administration could take in that regard is helping re-activate and intensify the Israeli-Palestinian security coordination. Next, the Biden administration could help the two sides intensify their cooperation in other fields as well.
Israeli and Palestinian official interlocutors have in the past explored other important confidence building measures. For example, the two sides, aided by US diplomats, discussed transferring Palestinian communities and uninhabited lands in Area C to Area B or Area A, to empower the Palestinian Authority and expand the portion of the West Bank under Palestinian control. The two sides have also discussed measures to ease Palestinian travel in the West Bank and between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and to alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Biden administration could play a key role in encouraging such measures to rebuild trust and to signal to both sides that it is serious about future Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Obviously, in the short run, the Biden administration could play a constructive role in helping Palestinians cope with the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19, and facilitate closer coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian public health services, both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, to fight the pandemic.
Even if the Biden administration does not immediately push for a resumption of final-status Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, it is imperative that it make clear from day one that its goal is to restore its role as a constructive intermediary between the parties in pursuit of a conflict-ending peace treaty between the state of Israel and the future state of Palestine. It is important that this message be shared with America’s global allies and that the Biden administration will do its utmost to sustain world support for Israeli-Palestinian peace and rally the international community to help advance this vital cause.
We trust that the Biden administration would appoint a team of apt foreign policy professionals, headed by a secretary of state who will invest herself or himself in constructive diplomacy with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians. American leadership, at the highest levels, is still vital – as it always has been – to achieving progress on the way to Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Israel’s recent agreements normalizing relations with several Arab states have both positive and negative aspects. As an organization that supports peace between Israel and all its neighbors, we support these steps. However, we are not blind to the fact that they are intended and have been used to distract from and minimize the perceived need to return to negotiations with the Palestinians. Generating tourism, trade and financial engagement with the Gulf is a positive development, but we encourage the Biden administration to seek ways to leverage this Israeli-Arab détente to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace.
We encourage you to recognize that the threat to Israel’s existence as a democracy is not the nature of its relationship with Arab states on its periphery but rather its relationship with its Palestinian neighbors, who are stateless, living under a 53-year-old Israeli occupation, and increasingly demanding to exercise their civil rights in the binational state that they see forming, de facto, between the river and the sea. That binationalism, as affirmed by numerous Israeli national security experts, is the chief existential threat that Israel is facing as a democracy.
Another major threat, of course, is Iran. APN welcomes President-elect Biden’s approach on Iran. We believe that re-activating the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and seeking to build upon it to achieve a broader, long-term deal with Iran, is the right way to go. We are not alone in viewing the JCPOA as a strategic asset for Israel. Many of Israel’s chief security officials – current end former – share this view.
Reviving the JCPOA, in partnership with America’s global allies, would provide a valuable opportunity for Joe Biden and his administration to reassume America’s role of a global leader and to reestablish our nation’s credibility worldwide. We will support you in that endeavor.
In sum, we believe President-elect Biden has a mandate to lead the United States on the world scene in general, and in the Middle East in particular. We urge you to leverage the responsible, level-headed diplomacy that he has always practiced toward peace for Israel, the Palestinians, and the region as a whole. And we look forward to working closely with him as he pursues that goal.
President and CEO
Chair of the Board
Americans for Peace Now
1320 19th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036