Palestinians: Background and U.S. Relations

The current structure of Palestinian governing entities dates to 1994. In that year, Israel agreed with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to permit a Palestinian Authority (PA) to exercise limited rule over Gaza and specified areas of the West Bank, subject to overarching Israeli military administration that dates back to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Under the Trump Administration, U.S. policy shifted in a direction that more explicitly favored Israel over the Palestinians. Actions of note included suspending U.S. funding for the Palestinians, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and opening an embassy there, and adopting measures to treat Israeli settlements in the West Bank more like areas in Israel proper. In late 2020, the Administration brokered agreements to help Israel move toward more formal relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. PLO/PA leaders voiced opposition to the agreements insofar as they signaled a change to Arab states’ previous stance that Israel should address Palestinian negotiating demands as a precondition to improved ties.

Biden Administration officials have stated their intention to improve U.S.-Palestinian ties, and probably plan to resume humanitarian, security, and economic development aid for Palestinians. The Administration and Congress face a number of issues with implications for bilateral ties, including (1) how to resume aid; (2) the feasibility of reopening certain diplomatic offices in Washington, DC, and Jerusalem; (3) how to respond to Palestinian initiatives in international fora (including the ICC); and (4) whether to revisit some Trump-era actions that gave more favorable treatment under U.S. policy to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The trajectory of some of these issues may depend on a significant PLO/PA change to welfare payments to or on behalf of individuals allegedly involved in acts of terrorism, and whether elections (if held) lead to a greater Hamas role in the PA.   Purchase this Volume