Nov 25, 2020 - World

Palestinians prepare charm offensive for Biden

Biden stands with Abbas, both wearing suits and ties, in front of saluting military figures
Abbas and Biden in Ramallah in 2010. Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Palestinian leaders are considering several initiatives that they hope will encourage strong relations with the incoming administration and make it easier for Biden to roll back Trump's policies.

Why it matters: After four years of deep crisis in U.S.-Palestinian relations, President Mahmoud Abbas desperately needs to rebuild his standing in Washington.

Driving the news: After Biden's election, the Palestinians ended their boycott of civilian and security coordination with Israel and agreed to accept outstanding tax revenues collected by Israel on their behalf. That was the first step in setting the stage for engagement with the Biden administration.

  • Another step was returning Palestinian ambassadors to their posts in the UAE and Bahrain, after withdrawing them to protest the normalization agreements with Israel.
  • The Palestinians are also planning to announce that they're prepared to conduct a review of anti-Israeli incitement in government media.

One possible policy change would target the system of allowances paid by the Palestinian Authority to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the families of alleged Palestinian terrorists killed by Israeli soldiers.

  • At a Council on Foreign Relations event last week, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh defended the allowances, referring to them as a welfare system. But he added that “if some changes are needed,” the Palestinians are ready to consider them.
  • Palestinian officials say they are thinking of changing the criteria so that the size of the allowances would be based only on economic needs and not on the actions of the prisoners.

The big picture: The allowance system was termed "pay for slay" by the Trump administration because Palestinian prisoners who committed more serious crimes and served more time in Israeli jails received more money, regardless of their economic situation.

  • That became a point of tension almost from Day 1 after the Palestinians rebuffed the Trump administration's requests that the system be changed.
  • In March 2018, Trump signed the “Taylor Force Act,” which conditioned a big chunk of U.S. financial aid to the Palestinian Authority on ending the payments.

What’s next: A phone call between Biden and Abbas is expected in the coming days. It will signal the beginning of a rapprochement between the U.S. and the Palestinians.

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