The Biden administration is crafting a plan aimed at resetting US ties with the Palestinians, which all but collapsed under former President Donald Trump, according to an internal draft memo seen by Reuters.
Two people familiar with the State Department document, which was first reported by the United Arab Emirates-based newspaper The National, said it was still in an early “working stage” but could eventually form the basis for rolling back parts of Trump’s approach that Palestinians denounced as heavily biased in favour of Israel.
Since President Joe Biden took office on January 20, his aides have said they intend to repair relations with the Palestinians. His administration has pledged to resume hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance and work towards reopening the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington, DC.
Biden’s aides have also made clear they want to re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But they have moved cautiously with Israel’s March 23 elections looming, followed by Palestinian elections scheduled in coming months.
A portion of the draft memo quoted by The National said the US vision is “to advance freedom, security, and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians in the immediate term.”
The document was cited as saying $15m in COVID-19 pandemic aid to the Palestinians could be announced by the end of March. It is also reported to take a tougher stance on Israeli settlement activities and mentions efforts “to obtain a Palestinian commitment to end payments to individuals imprisoned (by Israel) for acts of terrorism”.
One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the document was a preliminary draft subject to revision and any final version would require inter-agency review.
“We don’t have any comments on that specific memo,” US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters at a daily briefing.
Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative party, told Al Jazeera it is entirely feasible for the US to use its ability to pressure Israel.
“The US has the largest possible ability to interfere,” he said, speaking from the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
“They can force Israel to stop settlement activities immediately and also force Israel to say they will remove settlements that obstruct the possibility of a Palestinian state. If they want – if they have the will – they can do it.”
Barghouti said that the US cannot claim to be an honest broker while being “totally biased to one side, which is Israel”.
“What will change the political scene is a different American position, specifically blocking settlements, forcing Israel to stop settlements, [and] threatening Israel that there will be sanctions if it continues building settlements,” he said.
“Otherwise [the US is] just wasting time.”