Palestinians congratulate Biden, indicate end to boycott of U.S.

Ali Sawafta
·3-min read
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hold a news conference in New York
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hold a news conference in New York

By Ali Sawafta

RAMALLAH (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday congratulated U.S. President-elect Joe Biden in a statement that indicated he will drop his three-year political boycott of the White House.

Abbas had ended all political dealings with President Donald Trump's administration after the U.S. leader's 2017 decisions to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move the U.S. Embassy there.

"I congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his victory as President of the United States of America for the coming period," Abbas said in a statement issued from his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"I look forward to working with the President-elect and his administration to strengthen the Palestinian-American relations and to achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for our people," the statement continued.

Trump's moves, which broke with decades of U.S. policy, had delighted Israel but infuriated the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as a future capital and considered Trump's backing for Israel as undermining their own goal of statehood.

Abbas's boycott was popular among Palestinians, who celebrated Trump's defeat on Sunday on the streets.

But, even as security contacts with Washington continued behind the scenes, the Palestinian leadership felt increasingly isolated, especially after Israel signed agreements with Gulf Arab states to normalise ties.

In the days before the election Abbas's inner circle met to discuss whether they should resume political contacts with the White House if Biden won, a Palestinian official told Reuters.

Bassam Al-Salhe, a senior member of the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization, said on Sunday the boycott was primarily linked to what he called "the hostile policy" of Trump's administration.

"When Biden announces that this is going to change - and he announced that during his election campaign - there will be no reason for the boycott," he said.

BIDEN HOPES

Biden has said he would restore funding to the West Bank and Gaza that Trump had cut, including assistance delivered through the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.N. agencies.

He has also in the past opposed Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, and voiced support for a two-state solution to the conflict, a formula that would see a future state of Palestine co-existing alongside Israel.

But he is not likely to reverse the Jerusalem and embassy decisions and Biden has welcomed Israel's rapprochements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, even as Palestinians condemned those moves.

Among the Palestinians hit hardest by Trump were refugees, following his 2018 decision to cut off all U.S. funding - more than $300 million annually - to UNRWA, the United Nations agency.

"Trump's losing is a gain for us, for the Palestinian people, because he had sold out the Palestinian cause," said Anwar Abu Amira, 38, a refugee in Gaza's Beach Camp.

"Since he took office until he lost, he has been trying to wipe out the Palestinian identity," Abu Amira said.

Gaza political analyst Hani Habib said the Biden win would encourage Abbas to re-engage in negotiations with Israel, a move the international community has long called for.

He said this might complicate Abbas's efforts to reconcile with his principal domestic rivals, the Islamist movement Hamas, although Habib said Biden would not address the issue soon.

"When it comes to foreign policy, Biden has far more important and immediate issues than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such as Iran, NATO and the alliance with Europe."

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza. Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Edmund Blair)