Ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration, a Palestinian billionaire in Washington was exposed as the incoming administration’s life line to Mahmoud Abbas’ regime.
By Baruch Yedid, TPS
The renewed relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the Biden administration is not waiting for the swearing-in ceremony to be held on Tuesday at the White House.
Palestinian Authority (PA) officials expressed concern that the beginning of Joe Biden’s tenure will not lead to immediate policy changes with Israel due to internal U.S. strife and a new nuclear agreement with Iran. This hasn’t stopped PA brass from setting up an unofficial coordination system between the PA and the Biden government that has already led to significant developments in the Palestinian arena and even pushed Mahmoud Abbas to declare elections.
A Palestinian source reports that messages have been passed from Biden’s staff to the Palestinians through a Palestinian billionaire living in Washington in recent months, an arrangement initiated by a U.S. diplomat of Lebanese descent, Hady Amr.
Amr, who is married to a Palestinian woman, was a member of Martin Indyk’s staff, held a number of positions in Barack Obama’s administration, and is considered to have promoted the idea of alliances with Islamic elements in the Arab world.
Indyk, it will be recalled, decided to resign after criticizing Israel and construction in Judea and Samaria. Indyk was accused by Israeli officials of “hypocrisy.”
The Palestinian source says that Amr is responsible for the messages conveyed to Abbas that the renewal of the Palestinian leadership’s legitimacy through elections will facilitate the creation of a positive relationship with the new US administration.
“Amr is also responsible for the fact that Abbas has recently embarked on a series of structural reforms and measures that will prove that he is also fighting corruption at the top of the Palestinian Authority,” the Palestinian source said.
With the expected rapprochement, the Biden government is considering reopening the consulate in eastern Jerusalem and is also considering setting up a special office for Palestinian affairs at the US State Department headquarters. One of the candidates for this position is Amr, an expert on international relations and Islamic world affairs, a researcher at the Brookings Institution and former director of the Center for American Studies in Doha, Qatar.
Sources in Ramallah who met with the Americans estimate that Amr has a good chance of being appointed a member of the coordination team for the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but only for as a special envoy on behalf of the White House.
Already a few months ago, the Palestinians renewed their contacts with the US Embassy under outgoing Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who was boycotted by Abbas. The renewed ties are now the responsibility of the Palestinian Affairs Unit, headed by George Noll.
The relations between the US and the PA were severed following the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem and the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
With the closure of the consulate in the east of the city, it was converted into a small unit operating from the American embassy building, but since the election results in the US became clear, the connection between American officials operating at the American consulate in Jerusalem and the Palestinian leadership has renewed. Embassy staff also visited Hebron and Ramallah, and recently Noll met with senior PA and Fatah officials.
Several talks have dealt with election issues in the Palestinian Authority, in which the Americans are showing great interest. At one of the meetings, Jibril Rajoub promised to work to ensure that Abbas will be elected for another term as Palestinian president, without any of the Palestinian factions or Fatah officials running against him.
Officials at the US Embassy are also in contact with Fatah activists from the camp of Muhammad Dahlan, an opponent of Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen. A source who is in contact with Rajoub says that he is working to present himself to the US as the best-man in the reconciliation agreement with Hamas and as the one who brought about the election, in accordance with the messages from the United States.
In the messages conveyed from the US to the PA, the Americans reportedly required the Palestinians to eradicate corruption in the PA and to decentralize Abu Mazen’s powers.
The PA is now in the midst of a process of a staff shuffle in civilian institutions and appointments to the security services.
Among the recent notable appointments in the Palestinian Authority is the dismissal of Ahmad Baraq, who headed the Anti-Corruption Authority, an agency to which several cases have been linked.
Appointments were also made in the legal system. Judge Iman Nasser a-Din became the head of the Supreme Judicial Council in place of Issa Abu Sharar. This is the first time a woman was appointed to the position.
Various sources indicate that the PA has even agreed to cease joining a international conventions and agreements, which has provoked opposition and anger in Israel.
Recently, the Palestinian Authority also decided to make structural changes in dozens of government agencies, abolishing some of them and merging other authorities to avoid duplication. Changes are also being made in a number of economic institutions, insurance institutions, funds and corporations.
A series of recent appointments made by Biden also indicates, in the opinion of Palestinian sources, a favorable policy towards the Palestinian cause.
After announcing the appointment to White House staff of Reema Dodin, who is of Palestinian descent, Biden is now appointing California-born Dana Shubat as a Legislative Affairs Strategic Coordination Lead, making her the second Arab-American among Biden’s new team.
Shubat is a graduate of the Department of Psychology at the University of Colorado and is of Jordanian and Palestinian descent.