Following the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, the continued appeasement of Iran, and the Houthi seizure of the American embassy and hostages in Yemen, the Biden administration has yet to complete its legacy in the Middle East. By pushing a Fatah-Hamas unity government, a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem, and limits on Israeli building in Judea and Samaria, the Biden administration is undermining Israel’s sovereignty and setting itself on a collision course with Israel’s governing coalition.
The Biden administration is developing a plan to reconcile Fatah and Hamas in a unity government for Gaza and Judea and Samaria (commonly known as the “West Bank”). According to one report, this government would include Fatah and Hamas members, in addition to “economic professionals who are not affiliated with a political party.” It is unclear why the Biden administration believes a unity government will be viable this time, as it failed in 2009, 2011, and 2016.
While Israel has not voiced concerns about this yet, Israel has opposed previous attempts to realize this old bad idea, as Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel. And the Fatah component of any unity government would be at least equally toxic to Israel, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has consistently refused to meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. So what is the point of all of this?
Furthermore, the U.S. can have relations with a Fatah-Hamas unity government under current U.S. law only if Hamas 1) recognizes Israel and 2) abides by previous Israel-Palestinian agreements, both of which are non-starters for Hamas. However, given the Biden administration’s willingness to legitimize Houthi terrorists, the Iranian regime, and the Taliban, it would not be surprising if the Biden administration begins to start working to legitimize Hamas.
The Biden administration wants to reopen a U.S. consulate to the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem that had been shut down by the Trump administration. Last month, in front of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated, “And as I said in May, we’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians.” The State Department later stated that the U.S. needed Israeli approval for it to open a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. But the Biden administration has not reversed course on the consulate, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh has been pressuring the United States to proceed, arguing that “the United States does not need the permission of anybody” to reopen the consulate. Shtayyeh had also said that such a consulate could serve as “the seed to a US embassy in the State of Palestine.”
Israelis across the political spectrum oppose a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem. In recent days, Bennett of the right-wing Yamina Party called any such reopening “unacceptable.” This was consistent with his earlier remark that “There’s no room for another American consulate in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the capital of one state and that’s the state of Israel.” Bennett’s coalition partner, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of the center-left Yesh Atid Party, stated that “sovereignty in Jerusalem [belongs] to one country, the State of Israel,” and offered that the U.S. consulate should instead be in Ramallah, the administrative center of the Palestinian Authority. Lapid also reportedly told Blinken that a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem would spell the end of the Bennett-Lapid unity government. Former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman believes the same.
The Biden administration has a very different approach to Israeli building in Judea and Samaria than the Trump administration. In its offered peace deal that the Palestinians rejected outright, the Trump administration would have allowed Israel to annex 30 percent of Judea and Samaria, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had stated that the Trump administration believed that the “settlements don’t inherently violate international law.”
In contrast, the Biden administration is becoming increasingly vocal about Israel building in Judea and Samaria. State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed that the Biden administration “strongly oppose[s] the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and it damages the prospects for a two-state solution.” This puts the United States in direct opposition to Bennett, who, while he promised to not annex territory in Judea and Samaria, also continues to oppose a Palestinian state and to support building in Israel’s heartland.
The Biden administration is supporting a Fatah-Hamas unity government, a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, and curbing Israeli building in Judea and Samaria. Each of these policies is a poison pill that could upend Israel’s new and fragile governing coalition. It remains to be seen how effective Bennett will be in resisting these policies, and at what cost.