US-Palestinian Economic Détente Alone is not a Strategy

The Biden administration last week issued a joint statement with the Palestinian Authority announcing the resumption of the U.S.-Palestinian Economic Dialogue (USPED).

In a virtual meeting, administration officials and senior representatives of the Palestinian Authority “recognized the importance of restored political and economic relations between the U.S. government and the Palestinian Authority and pledged to expand and deepen cooperation and coordination across a range of sectors,” the statement said. The re-activation of this body reverses one more component of the Trump administration’s sweeping anti-Palestinian policy.

Measures to roll back Trump’s anti-Palestinian policies are welcome developments -- both these recent steps and previous measures by the Biden administration to reactivate Washington’s aid program to the Palestinian Authority and to the UN agency that provides humanitarian services to Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

However, actions which are not harnessed to a strategy that paves the road to Palestinian independence and self-determination are insufficient. They may marginally improve the quality of life of West Bank Palestinians, but without a political horizon for ending the occupation and Palestinian state-building, they will not advance an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

We have no illusions. We know that the Biden administration is not prepared to engage at this time in efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. But we urge the administration to keep its promises of pursuing policies that maintain the viability of future peace negotiations. Given the dynamics on the ground, anything short of such a policy means allowing the occupation to further fester and acquiescing to Israel’s de-facto annexation of the West Bank.

The Biden administration should go beyond uttering boilerplate language in support of a two-state solution, and take actions that underscore this commitment.

Despite promising to do so, the Biden administration has not yet re-opened America’s dedicated consulate to the Palestinians, and reports indicate that it may suspend efforts to do so.

The administration says it is communicating to the Israeli government its displeasure with ongoing settlement construction, but it rarely goes public with its disapproval. And on the ground, the bulldozers are working. In overdrive.

Both the Biden administration and Israel’s government – each for its own reasons – have decided to deprioritize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a policy matter. But the conflict has dynamics of its own. When left to its own devices, it doesn’t pause. It gets worse. If you don’t continuously work to keep the path open to a political settlement of the conflict, that path is taken over by Israeli settlements, by further de-facto annexation, by reciprocal violence, and mutual vengeance.

A two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict means establishing a viable Palestinian state. Israel already exists. If the Biden administration is serious about keeping the path open to a future two-state solution, its engagement with the Palestinians should focus on laying the foundations to such a state. Likewise, in its engagement with Israel, the Biden administration must insist on Israel not quashing the prospects for Palestinian statehood, and, indeed, on Israeli policies that would support it.