Ahram Online: More than a month has passed since US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East. It is not yet clear what impact this visit is likely to have on improving the status quo of the Palestinian situation. Do you think we should expect any?
Khaled El Guindy: I think there is no impact on improving the status quo for the Palestinians. The visit did not concern the Palestinians. At best, I think, the visit to Bethlehem and the meeting with [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas was a courtesy call.
Development [of the visit] was actually Israel and Saudi Arabia, and secondarily the potential for future normalization. The [US] the administration made much of the direct flight from Israel to Jeddah. I think it was about trying to demonstrate to the United States’ regional partners in the Gulf, such as in Israel, that the United States is committed to regional security and stability, and that Iran is a priority, and that they will coordinate to examine a regional defense architecture. But, nothing to do with the Palestinians, I think. It is not a priority for this administration.
AO: Is there anything the Palestinians could have done to get more attention from the Biden administration?
Kh.G: I don’t think it’s really about what the Palestinians could do. It’s more about what the Israelis could do, and we know the Israelis aren’t interested in doing anything other than talk about some sort of economic improvement, because the situation on the ground is pretty dire.
There are almost daily incursions – not what happened in Gaza [on the second week of August]. Israel is not interested in politics [talks] with the Palestinians. This we have known for many, many years. And Washington is not interested in pushing Israel to do anything politically with the Palestinians. So the goal is really to try to maintain the status quo as much as possible. That’s why Washington is pushing for things like UNRWA and for hospitals, and certainly for continued Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. These are the priorities.
The administration is not interested in changing the status quo for the Palestinians because it would require too much political investment as well as political risk in terms of pressure on Israel, which this administration does not want.
AO: Is it just Israel and the current US administration, or is it also some Arab capitals that might feel that the “Palestinian cause” is a thing of the past, and that the thing to to do now is to move forward with relations with Israel?
Kh.G: I think in some Arab capitals, especially in the Gulf, things have reached a certain point of fatigue with the Palestinian issue because it has simply gone on for too long. I think that’s the mindset behind the normalization agreements, because they’re starting to say that we can’t just sit here and keep waiting for the two-state solution before we pursue our interests, and Israel has [a lot to offer in terms of] business, technology, military [cooperation].
I think where the Palestinians play a role is the divided leadership [not just] Hamas and Fatah, but even within Fatah, where there are new divisions every day. There is an overly dysfunctional and growing authoritarianism. It is a situation that does not inspire confidence, and it is not surprising that many Arab regimes believe that it is not something in which we want to continue investing, because [they say] we should care more about the Palestinians than about the Palestinian leadership, both Hamas and Fatah, themselves.
AO: Is it for a long time or is it for good? And what does this tell us about the future of the Palestinian cause?
Kh.G: Right now, the Palestinian National Movement is in a state of disarray. There are [also] a huge gap between where the Palestinian political leaders and the political elite are and where the ordinary Palestinians, who are mostly young, are. And they don’t speak the same language. Mahmoud Abbas talks about a two-state solution and a political horizon and [UNSC] Resolution 242, and it doesn’t resonate with Palestinians who are mostly under 30. Most Palestinians do not feel that their leaders speak to them or for them. This is the problem. And when you ask the Palestinians, there is virtually no agreement on the two-state solution, the future of the Palestinian state, or [even] the future of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). This is also part of the problem.
In the next phase, Palestinians will have to rethink and perhaps develop a new national consensus on all these issues: one state or two states, what kind of struggle, what kind of resistance, is BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] the future or are rockets the future of resistance – or [are] Other methods?
The Palestinians have a lot of work to do, and there will be no one from outside to help them; certainly not the United States, not Europe and not the Arab states now too. I think the Palestinians have to put their house in order before anything can change.
This state of affairs is not necessarily permanent, but the Palestinians must first put their house in order.
AO: Could that happen before the end of the rulers of the current era? Could we see a change before we say goodbye to the era of President Mahmoud Abbas?
Kh.G: I think it’s theoretically possible, but highly unlikely. Time and time again we have seen Abbas being extremely rigid in his approach and he does not accept dissent, even within his own party. Anyone who tried to express a different opinion was “excommunicated”, like Nasser Al-Kadwa, among others. It is therefore very unlikely that there will be major changes until the departure of Mahmoud Abbass, one way or the other.
I was recently in Palestine and most of the Palestinians I have spoken to are really waiting and preparing for the next day. The next day could be very dynamic, but it could also be [violent]. It will probably be chaotic and it probably won’t be very easy, because reaching a consensus within Fatah will be very difficult, with people like Jebril Rajoub being very opposed to people like Hussein El-Sheikh.
Mahmoud Abbass’ Circle Shrunk, But Somehow People Tried [to find allies]including people who are [said] communicate with Mohamed Dahlan to prepare the next day.
AO: Egypt is worried about the security of Gaza, and Jordan is also worried. There have been reports that Jordan wants to draw international attention to the Palestinian issue at the upcoming UNGA, particularly vis-à-vis the situation in Jerusalem. Could Egypt and Jordan get the United States to do more on the Palestinian front, to go beyond humanitarian aid?
Kh.G: It is possible, but I am not sure that the Jordanians have their opinion [fully] heard in Washington. Even the Israelis have acknowledged that relations with Jordan have been badly damaged by [Likud leader and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, and the two [successive Israeli prime ministers Naftali] Bennett and [Yair] Lapid tried to improve the relationship. I think the Biden administration is trying to bring Jordan back into the fold after the [Donald] The Trump administration has greatly alienated Jordan. But I don’t know how far it will go. The Biden administration really wants to avoid the Palestinian issue, which is one of the reasons why it might want to improve relations with Jordan, given that Jordan is a reliable partner and in fact has some influence. about what is happening in Jerusalem. So there is room for greater cooperation between the Biden administration and Jordan, but [again] it would be for the purpose of maintaining stability and calm, not beyond – all within the framework of maintaining the status quo, including that of [the holy sites]which is eroded every day by Israeli extremists and sometimes with the [consent] of the Israeli government.
I am told that this administration at the highest level understands the threat to Christian and Muslim places and that it is an issue they are working on [with the Jordanians]. Clearly, the absence of the two-state solution puts pressure on Jordan, especially as extremist voices in Israel grow louder and louder saying that Jordan is Palestine.
Many Palestinians worry about a second Nakba. And I think that’s a concern that Israel is also aware of.
We’ll see what happens after the Israeli elections [later this year] and [how many seats the extremists will get in the Knesset] as opposed to work.
This is the trend of Israeli politics, and many in Washington are in deep denial of this trend. Biden talks about Israel like it’s 1996, when Israeli society and politics are much more right-wing. That’s actually one of the reasons we’re seeing more instability, because [for example] there is more willingness to attack Gaza and make inroads.
AO: Does it look like Netanyahu can make a comeback? And if that happened, how would that influence the Biden administration’s positions on the broader Israeli-Palestinian situation?
Kh.G: Of course, it is impossible to predict, but it is possible that Netanyahu will return. He seems to be doing better in the polls. But I think it’s more likely to see more of what we’ve seen in the past year without a clear majority on either side, and that means more negotiations to try to put together a coalition.
I think now Bennett has been discredited and is no longer the leader of his party, most of the party, Yamina, will probably go to Netanyahu. It won’t be enough for Netanyahu, but it will certainly increase his chances over others. The other scenario is that the anti-Netanyahus form a strange broad coalition as we saw last year. Neither scenario is promising.
Regarding relations with Biden if Netanyahu returns, Biden is not Obama and he will be very reconciling [no matter how he may dislike Netanyahu]. So the line will be this: we will deal with any elected government and we have a special relationship and all that. Concretely, Netanyahu’s return could make the Biden administration more inclined to push at least on major issues like deportations in Jerusalem, or perhaps to be more vocal on some of the biggest settlements, but it won’t. a big step forward. difference.
AO: On Iran, there seem to be expectations of a new nuclear deal. What does this mean specifically for the Biden administration’s relationship given the commitment Biden himself made to the security of Gulf countries at the Jeddah summit in July?
Kh.G: I think if that happens, the priority for the Biden administration is to limit the damage with Israel. The main problem will be trying to sell the deal to the Israelis. And that will be a tough sell given that the Israeli political class, not only on the right but even at the center, is highly skeptical of any form of diplomacy with Iran.
Of course, some Gulf countries will have opinions.
But it is certainly not certain that a nuclear agreement is within reach, even if the chances seem better.
AO: And if so, will the Biden administration pay even less attention to the Palestinian issue?
Kh.G: Yes, it could push the Palestinian issue back on the agenda of the Biden administration. So this is bad news for the Palestinians.