AMMAN, Jordan: The status of Jerusalem will be high on the agenda when US President Joe Biden meets with Palestinian Authority officials in the West Bank this week, according to Hussein Al-Sheikh, secretary general of the Palestinian Authority’s executive committee. Palestine Liberation Organization.
“As far as the issue of Jerusalem is concerned, we have a number of important aspects that we need to discuss with the US administration,” he told Arab News ahead of Biden’s high-profile trip. The US president’s tour of Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia from July 13-16 will include a meeting with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.
“We want to ensure that all Christian and Muslim holy sites in the city of Jerusalem are respected for the status quo,” said Al-Sheikh, who was named PLO secretary general in May.
Additionally, he said, Palestinian leaders will pressure Biden to commit to reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem, which for decades functioned as a de facto US embassy for the Palestinians.
“Mr. Biden made the promise during his election campaign and this promise has been repeated to us many times,” Al-Sheikh said. “It is high time for the United States to keep its promise.”
In a recent interview with a Palestinian newspaper, Al-Sheikh said that the United States had also offered to open a consulate in Ramallah, the administrative capital of the West Bank, and had even suggested the appointment of a US special envoy to focus on the Palestinian issue. However, Palestinian leaders refused the offer, he said, and instead reiterated the need to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem.
The Trump administration closed the consulate in one of a series of controversial decisions that included officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv. .
Under Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly promised to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem, which was established in 1844, long before the establishment of the State of Israel. The Biden administration has already taken steps to improve ties with the Palestinians, in part by restoring U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority and funding for the United Nations agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, which has been cut by Trump. He also considered reopening the Palestinian mission in Washington, also closed under Trump, although there are hurdles in Congress that need to be overcome.
Meanwhile, US authorities recently announced the restoration of a communication line blocked by the Trump administration. This means Palestinians can deal directly with the US State Department in Washington rather than having to go through the US Ambassador to Israel first.
However, that falls far short of Biden’s promises — and Palestinian demands — for the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem. And as the US works to strengthen defense ties and promote normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states, Palestinians hold little hope for a breakthrough in the peace process or meaningful change. politics in Washington.
Al-Sheikh said the United States had promised to remove the PLO from its list of foreign terrorist organizations and to open a regular diplomatic mission in Washington. However, those promises also seem to have fallen through.
Biden will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials during his regional tour but, according to Al-Sheikh, there is currently no dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian officials, in part because of the ongoing Israeli political stalemate.
“Relations with the leadership of the occupation on political issues are almost non-existent because at present there is no Israeli partner who is ready to discuss the implementation of the signed agreements and the two-state solution. “, did he declare.
“There is no political horizon for the Palestinians, even though the Biden administration regularly talks about finding ways to move the political process forward, based on the two-state solution. This is important, to give the Palestinian people a glimmer of hope that things are moving forward in this process in accordance with international law.
“Israel must be held accountable and there must be a serious international effort to force Israel to respect international law when it comes to the Palestinian cause.
If Biden fails to deliver on his promises and the peace process remains stalled, Al-Sheikh predicted the situation could deteriorate further.
“If there are no concrete results from Biden’s visit regarding the need for a political horizon, it will mean that the visit will be considered a failure and we will all be forced into uncharted and uncomfortable territory. “, did he declare.
“I hope we don’t have to go. We desperately need and want a serious breakthrough. But if that fails, I can’t rule out the possibility that the Palestinian leadership will be forced into options they don’t want to commit to.
“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned last fall at the UN that some tough decisions will have to be made within a year if there is no process to end the occupation. Palestinian leaders had made a number of decisions that were put on hold, based on a friend request and pending the results of Biden’s visit.
Pressed by Arab News, Al-Sheikh does not rule out the possibility that a decision regarding the withdrawal of recognition of Israel is on the table.
“The Palestinian people yearn for freedom and independence and an end to this settlement enterprise and violations of our sovereignty,” he said. “At the end of the day, the Palestinians want an end to the occupation.”
He insisted that Palestinians are primarily concerned with political goals, not economic partnerships.
“The Palestinian cause is a political cause that requires a political horizon,” he said. “We need political solutions and not economic peace through economic projects.”
Regardless of the outcome of Biden’s visit, Al-Sheikh said all parties must proceed with consistency and patience as the situation is extremely sensitive.
“Now is not the time for speeches and slogans,” he said. “The coming period will be extremely difficult and we must insist on our political objectives and convey to our people their aspirations for an end to the Israeli occupation and the need to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as its Capital.
“We hope to achieve this goal in the shortest and cheapest way.”