Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday congratulated U.S. President-elect Joe Biden in a statement that indicated he will drop his three-year political boycott of the White House. Abbas had ended all political dealings with President Donald Trump's administration after the U.S. leader's 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move the U.S. Embassy there.
"I congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his victory as President of the United States of America for the coming period," Abbas said in a statement issued from his office in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
"I look forward to working with the President-elect and his administration to strengthen the Palestinian-American relations and to achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for our people," the statement continued.
Trump's moves, which broke with decades of U.S. policy, had delighted Israel but infuriated the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as a future capital and considered Trump's backing for Israel as undermining their own goal of statehood.
Abbas's boycott was popular among Palestinians, who celebrated Trump's defeat on Sunday on the streets.
But, even as security contacts with Washington continued behind the scenes, the Palestinian leadership felt increasingly isolated, especially after Israel signed agreements with Gulf Arab states to normalize ties.
In the days before the election, Abbas's inner circle met to discuss whether they should resume political contacts with the White House if Biden won, a Palestinian official told Reuters.
Bassam Al-Salhe, a senior member of the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said on Sunday the boycott was primarily linked to what he called "the hostile policy" of Trump's administration.
"When Biden announces that this is going to change – and he announced that during his election campaign – there will be no reason for the boycott," he said.
Israeli ties and Palestinian hopes
Biden's ties with Israel run deep, and he has been a vocal supporter of the Jewish state for decades. He visited Israel in 1973, months after he was first elected to the Senate. In a 2015 speech, while serving as Barack Obama's vice president, Biden said the United States was wedded to a "sacred promise to protect the homeland of the Jewish people."
During the 2012 vice-presidential debate, when Biden was facing criticism over the Obama administration's treatment of Israel from Republican Paul Ryan, Biden asserted that he and Netanyahu had "been friends for 39 years." Netanyahu on Sunday praised Biden as "a great friend of Israel" with whom he has had "a long and warm personal relationship."
Biden supported recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital two decades before Trump triggered a global outcry by doing so. Biden backed a 1995 Senate bill to establish a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem by 1999.
But Biden is expected to walk-back parts of Trump's record, notably by opposing Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, which the president-elect has described as an obstacle to peace.
Biden said he will reverse the “destructive cut-off of diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority and cancellation of assistance programs that support Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, economic development, and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza.”
He also has voiced support for a two-state solution to the conflict, a formula that would see a future state of Palestine coexisting alongside Israel but opposed leveraging U.S. aid to Israel in order to pressure it into abiding by international law.
“I strongly oppose Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank,” Biden told PBS in an interview last year. “But the idea that we would cut off military aid to an ally, our only true, true ally in the entire region, is absolutely preposterous.”
The president-elect is not likely to reverse the Jerusalem and embassy decisions and has welcomed Israel's rapprochements with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Sudan, even as Palestinians condemned those moves.
Biden also expected to restore "humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people," after Trump cut U.S. support to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Experts agree that while a renewed Middle East peace push is unlikely to top Biden's immediate agenda, his administration will seek to restore America's traditional role as a broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"It is likely that they will seek much more engagement" with the Palestinians, said Sarah Feuer of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.