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Biden Expected To Work To Repair U.S. Relations With Palestinian Leadership

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians changed dramatically under the Trump administration in favor of Israel. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a vocal ally of Donald Trump. We're joined now by NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem to talk about how the inauguration of President Joe Biden is being received there.

Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So some optimism was expressed today from the Palestinian leadership. Tell us about what they said.

ESTRIN: Yeah. Palestinians are eager to turn a new page here because Trump has snubbed the Palestinian leadership repeatedly. The administration closed down the Palestinian envoy's office in Washington. The Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy here to Jerusalem - where I am - and sided with Israel's claims to the city. Palestinians also have claims in Jerusalem. So then, the Palestinians cut ties with Trump. And then, Trump stopped giving humanitarian aid to Palestinians. So there was just a lot of bad blood between them.

And Biden has pledged to reverse a lot of what Trump did. He says he will restore humanitarian aid to Palestinians. He will oppose Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. Trump actually supported Israeli claims to territory there. So now, there are some Palestinians who are disappointed that the Biden team says they will not be moving the embassy out of Jerusalem. But the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, congratulated Biden today. And he's expecting Biden to be more favorable to the Palestinians.

SHAPIRO: And what have Israeli leaders been saying today?

ESTRIN: Well, Netanyahu congratulated Biden. But in general, Israeli officials are doing this kind of two-step. They are, on the one hand, thanking Trump, calling him the best friend that Israel has ever had in the White House. And then they're just cautiously walking this balance beam. They're trying to position themselves to be on Biden's good side and praising Biden as a longtime friend of Israel. In the same breath, though, they are voicing concern - very clear concern - about what Biden's policies will be on Iran.

SHAPIRO: So let's talk about that. I mean, the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. What's Israel looking for from the Biden administration on this?

ESTRIN: Israelis really just want to be at the table. They want to be at the table with the U.S. from the get-go because Biden has indicated he wants to enter some kind of deal again with Iran to curb its nuclear enrichment in exchange for lifting sanctions. Israel opposes making a deal with Iran and says that would just strengthen a regime that seeks to dominate the region and arm Israel's enemies. So already, the Israelis are publicly at odds with President Biden, you know, on Day 1. And the incoming secretary of state - or Biden's pick for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, is trying to reassure Israel it will be consulted on Iran policy.

SHAPIRO: So what are the early signs that people in the region are looking for to show how relations between the new administration and Israel and the Palestinians might go, what direction it might take?

ESTRIN: Well, there are two big events that we should look at. First of all, the Palestinians promise that they're going to hold elections for the first time in 16 years. And they want to clean up their divided leadership, their political mess, rehabilitate themselves, have a fresh start with Biden in office. And then, Israeli elections are coming up in March. Prime Minister Netanyahu is running again. He doesn't have Trump in the White House to help him. In general, Israelis and Palestinians are just on the lookout now to see what Trump-era policies Biden will change.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.

Thank you.

ESTRIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.