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Biden with Abbas in 2010. Photo: Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has formed a special team to prepare for talks with the Biden administration over controversial payments made by the Palestinian Authority to Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel, many of them on terrorism charges.

Why it matters: The prisoner stipends — termed "pay for slay" by the Trump administration — are a primary concern for the Biden administration as it prepares to re-engage with the Palestinians.

  • U.S. and Palestinian officials acknowledge that a solution on the payments issue must be found as the U.S. takes steps like renewing aid and reopening the PLO office in Washington. They're therefore considering combining the issues into one package.

Driving the news: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tasked Shtayyeh with finding such a solution. Shtayyeh has assembled a team of lawyers and experts, and he discussed the issue earlier this week during a call with Hady Amr, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Israel-Palestine.

  • One possibility would be changing the law such that the payment criteria is based on the welfare needs of the prisoner and not on the crime committed.

What they are saying: “We know we have to find a solution for the prisoner payments, but it is an important issue for many Palestinians and any solution must be dignified," a Palestinian official told me.

  • The Palestinian official added that Shtayyeh told Amr in their phone call that U.S. relations with the Palestinians should be bilateral — separate from the state of relations between the Palestinians and Israel.

What to watch: One incentive the Biden administration could offer the Palestinians to make concessions on the payments would be the signing of a long-sought presidential waiver canceling the designation of the PLO as a terror organization.

What’s next: State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday that the administration wants to renew humanitarian aid to the Palestinians quickly because Trump's suspension of aid "didn't achieve political progress or compromises from the Palestinian leadership and only hurt the Palestinian people."

Go deeper

Feb 1, 2021 - World

U.S. and Palestinians re-engage after 3-year freeze

Biden with Abbas in 2010. Photo: Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images

The Biden administration has now had more official contacts with Palestinian officials in its first two weeks than the Trump administration did in its final three years.

Why it matters: The State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Israel-Palestine, Hady Amr, spoke by phone with multiple Palestinian officials on Monday. Those were the first publicly announced interactions between the sides as the Biden administration moves to renew ties that had been effectively severed since Donald Trump announced in December 2017 that he was moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week's airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iranian-backed militia groups was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.

6 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.