Amman, Jordan: Jerusalem̵7;s position will be high on the agenda when US President Joe Biden meets Palestinian Authority officials in the West Bank this week, according to Hussein al-Sheikh, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.
“When it comes to the issue of Jerusalem, 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 visit. The US President’s visit to 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 respect for the status quo of all Christian and Muslim holy sites in the city of Jerusalem,” said al-Sheikh, who was appointed secretary general of the PLO in May.
In addition, he said, the Palestinian leadership would pressure Biden on his pledge to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which for decades served as a de facto US embassy for Palestinians.
“Mr. Biden made a promise during his election campaign and that promise was repeated to us many times,” Al-Sheikh said. “It is high time America delivers on its promise.”
In a recent interview with a Palestinian newspaper, al-Sheikh said that the US had offered to open a consulate in Ramallah, the administrative capital of the West Bank, and even to focus on the Palestinian issue. The appointment of a special US envoy was also suggested. However, the Palestinian leadership turned down the offer, he said, and instead reiterated the need to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem.
The Trump administration closed the consulate in one of several controversial decisions, including officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.
Under Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly promised to reopen the Jerusalem consulate, which had been established long before the creation of the State of Israel in 1844. The Biden administration has already taken steps to improve relations with the Palestinians, in part by restoring US aid to the Palestinian Authority and funding for the United Nations agency that deals with Palestinian refugees, which was cut off by Trump. It has also looked to reopen the Palestinian mission to Washington, which has also been closed under Trump, although there are congressional hurdles that need to be overcome.
Meanwhile, US officials recently announced the restoration of a line of communication that had been blocked by the Trump administration. This means that Palestinians can first deal directly with the US State Department in Washington rather than going through the US ambassador to Israel.
However, it falls short of Biden’s pledges – and Palestinian demands – to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem. And as the US seeks to boost defense ties and normalize relations between Israel and the Arab states, Palestinians have little hope of success in the peace process or any significant change of policy in Washington.
Al-Sheikh said the US had promised to remove the PLO from the list of foreign terrorist organizations and open a regular diplomatic mission in Washington. But, even these promises seem to be dashed.
Biden will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials during his field visit, but according to al-Sheikh, no talks are currently taking place between Israel and Palestinian officials due to the current Israeli political standoff.
“Ties with the occupying leaders on political issues are almost non-existent as there is currently no Israeli partner who is willing to execute the signed agreements and discuss the two-state solution,” he said.
“There is no political horizon for the Palestinians, even though the Biden administration talks regularly about finding ways to advance the political process (forward) based on a two-state solution. This is important, to give a ray of hope to the people of Palestine that things are progressing in this process in accordance with international law.
“Israel must be held accountable and there must be a serious international effort to compel Israel to abide by international law when it comes to the Palestinian cause.”
If Biden fails to keep his promises and the peace process stalls, al-Sheikh predicted the situation could worsen.
“If Biden’s visit does not yield any tangible results with respect to the need for political horizons, it will mean that the visit will be considered a failure and we will all be forced into unknown and inconvenient territory,” he said. Told.
“I hope we don’t have to go there. We desperately need and want a serious breakthrough. But if it fails, I cannot exclude the possibility that the Palestinian leadership will be forced into those choices.” which he does not wish to proceed.
“The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, warned last fall at the United Nations that if there is no process to end the occupation, some tough decisions will have to be made within a year. The Palestinian leadership made a number of decisions based on requests from friends and awaiting the results of the Biden visit, which have been put on hold.
Pressed by Arab News, al-Sheikh would not rule out the possibility that a decision regarding the withdrawal of Israel’s recognition could be on the table.
“The Palestinian people yearn for freedom and independence and stop this compromising enterprise and the infringement of our sovereignty,” he said. “Ultimately, Palestinians want an end to the occupation.”
He stressed that Palestinians are primarily concerned with political goals, not economic partnership.
“The Palestinian cause is a political one that requires a political horizon,” he said. “We want political solutions, not economic peace through economic projects.”
Whatever the outcome of Biden’s visit, al-Sheikh said all sides should proceed with firmness and patience, as the situation is extremely sensitive.
“This is not the time for speeches and slogans,” he said. “The times ahead will be very difficult and we need to assert our political goals and provide our people with the need to end Israeli occupation and establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as the capital.
“We hope to reach that goal in the shortest and least expensive way possible.”