US President-elect Joe Biden, left, who was then US Vice President, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meet at the presidential compound in Ramallah, West Bank, March 9, 2016.

PLO official: Biden is 'no savior' for Palestinians but should hold Israel 'to account'

The past four years of the Trump administration has not been good for Palestinians. As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, Palestinian senior official Hanan Ashrawi says his administration has a chance to turn things around.

The World

US President-elect Joe Biden, left, who was then US vice president, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meet at the presidential compound in Ramallah, West Bank, March 9, 2016.

Debbie Hill/Pool via AP

The past four years of the Trump administration have not been good for Palestinians.

While the United States has always maintained a special relationship with Israel, President Donald Trump took it to new levels. His administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, then moved the US Embassy there. It cut off millions of dollars in aid to the West Bank and Gaza.

Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, unveiled a peace plan that would have made a two-state solution virtually impossible — which Palestinian officials rejected outright, citing pro-Israel bias. The US has also stood by as Israel continued building settlements on Palestinian land — considered illegal under international law. 

Would the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden be any better? Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) joined The World's host Marco Werman from Ramallah to discuss. 

Related: Amid US-UAE deal and US election, Israelis wonder how balance of power in region might change

Marco Werman: When Trump was elected in 2016, there was a statement from the Palestinians that they hoped they could work with them. How well have things gone? 

Hanan Ashrawi: Things have gone in a disastrous way. It's been, really, an unmitigated catastrophe. 

Working with — or not working with — Trump has in many ways threatened the whole Palestinian issue and cause. Trump decided from the beginning that he's going to bash the Palestinians into submission. He's going to not only side with Israel but protect its impunity and join it as a partner in crime and then occupation. And he moved, in many ways, unilaterally and illegally in order to preempt all Palestinian issues. So, we had to survive these four years that were extremely dangerous, that were extremely painful, and the very building blocks of peace were being systematically destroyed. 

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, congratulated Biden and Harris after the news of their win over the weekend. But based on what you're saying, what are the Palestinian Authority and Abbas realistically hoping for from a Biden administration? 

First of all, we hope to stop the damage. This is very important. We have to stop the slippery slope and we have to prevent also in the transition between now and January from delivering even more to Israel. So, this is one thing. But two, we have to try to forge a new way ahead, not by going back to the way things were before because the problem is that American policy has failed repeatedly in bringing about a just peace and curbing Israeli violations and protecting Palestinian rights. 

So, we cannot go back to doing more of the same, hoping for a different result. Palestine now is part of the American conversation. It is no longer a taboo. We are part of a movement. We are part of an awareness of the need to respect human rights, to treat people equally, to respect the global rule of law, and to move ahead in ways that are different from the usual "let [the American Israel Political Action Committee] and let the pro-Israel lobby decide on American policy in the Middle East."

What more damage are you worried about in the next three months before Trump leaves the White House? I mean, Netanyahu came out with a warm congratulations for Biden. 

You believe that?

Netanyahu, I think, feels that he's lost his best friend because Trump was working for Netanyahu. Trump was delivering everything that Netanyahu wanted and at the same time, pandering to his base in the US. So, now he feels that he can no longer dictate American policy when it comes to Palestine. 

In many ways, they still are capable of doing more damage, like enabling the overt annexation of 30% of the West Bank or of all the settlements, and so on. They can do a lot of damage. And I don't want to give them any suggestions or ideas, please. 

Related: Former US ambassador: Israel would be 'making itself an international outlaw' with West Bank annexation 

As a result of the Trump White House, the Palestinians have boycotted Washington for three years. Will that boycott end? 

The US disqualified itself as a peace broker or as an interlocutor because it became part of the occupation and it violated the law. So, in a sense, the moment the Trump plan is off the table, the moment all these prejudicial and illegal steps are stopped, and then, of course, the reasons for the suspension of the dialogue and talks will be removed. 

I mean, the Palestinian boycott of Washington basically came as a result of the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital. Biden has essentially said he won't change that. 

Well, that's why they need to reconsider. Because they cannot be part of an illegal position. Fourteen out of 15 UN Security Council members — with the exception, of course, of the US — voted against this. And that is a very easy way out. You took an illegal decision that was rejected by the rest of the world. You can undo that. 

You've had decades of international diplomatic experience. What do you think Joe Biden brings to the job in terms of the interests of Palestinians? 

Well, look, we have no illusions. He is no savior. We know him and we know Kamala Harris and we know that they have very strong AIPAC ties and we know that they have all been very pro-Israeli. But they cannot afford to do more of the same now. And I think they should engage the Palestinians as equals, as people with equal rights, and they should also engage Israel as a country that is not above the law, but that has to be held to account. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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