Jan 5, 2022 - World

Palestinians press Biden to take more active role in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Abbas (right) meets Sullivan.
Abbas (right) meets Sullivan. Photo: Palestinian Presidency handout via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned national security advisor Jake Sullivan in their recent meeting that more active U.S. diplomatic engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is needed to avoid a new crisis in the region, Palestinian Minister for Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh tells Axios.

Why it matters: After a diplomatic deep freeze under the Trump administration, the Palestinian leadership hoped Biden would be much more active in rolling back Trump’s policies and taking steps to advance the two-state solution. So far, they've been disappointed.

Behind the scenes: Sullivan met with Abbas and his senior advisers for around two hours on Dec. 22, following his meetings in Jerusalem with Bennett and other Israeli leaders.

  • Al-Sheikh, who attended the meeting and is in charge of contacts with Israel and with the U.S., told Axios Sullivan briefed Abbas on his meeting with Bennett and said the Israeli prime minister doesn’t believe in a two-state solution or want to negotiate with the Palestinians.
  • Abbas told Sullivan that without a "political horizon," any small incident on the ground could create an escalation that spirals out of control, as has happened repeatedly in the past, according to al-Sheikh.
  • “We told Sullivan that we want to see a U.S. diplomatic plan. We said that we don’t want the Biden administration to wake up only when there is a crisis. There must be a diplomatic umbrella that will create hope," al-Sheikh told me.
  • The White House declined to comment.

Abbas also expressed frustration about the lack of progress in the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, which served as the primary U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinians before Trump closed it in 2019.

  • Biden pledged to reopen it during the 2020 campaign, and Secretary of State Tony Blinken has publicly committed to follow through, but strong Israeli opposition has delayed the process.
  • According to one Palestinian official, Abbas told Sullivan that the U.S. was giving Bennett veto power over its bilateral relations with the Palestinians. The White House declined to comment for this story.
  • Between the lines: The Palestinians see the reopening of the consulate as a political signal about the U.S. position on the future of Jerusalem.

Driving the news: Abbas visited Israel last Tuesday for a rare meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who offered confidence-building proposals to improve relations and help the Palestinian economy.

  • Al-Sheikh told Axios that was a positive development, but not enough. “We don’t want only economic peace with Israel. Without a political horizon, we might reach a situation both sides are trying to avoid," he said.

What’s next: Al-Sheikh said the Palestinian leadership proposed to the Biden administration a summit of the foreign ministers of the Quartet — the U.S., Russia, the UN and the EU — to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Regional countries like Egypt and Jordan could also join, he said.

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