Activist state

Biden heads to West Bank, with little to offer Palestinians


FILE – A mural by Palestinian artist Taqi Spateen depicts Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh killed on part of Israel’s controversial separation barrier, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, July 6, 2022. Thursday, 14 July 2022, Lina Abu Akleh, the niece of the slain Al Jazeera journalist, criticizes President Joe Biden for not meeting his family as he urges the United States to hold Israel accountable for his death. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)


With no clear path to get Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track, President Joe Biden on Friday offered US cash as balm during a visit to a local hospital.

“Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity,” he said during a visit to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, which serves Palestinians. “And access to health care, when you need it, is essential to living a dignified life for all of us.”

Although $100 million in proposed medical aid will require US Congressional approval, Biden is also announcing $201 million for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, as well as smaller amounts for other assorted programs. .

Israel has also pledged to upgrade wireless networks in the West Bank and Gaza, as part of a broader effort to improve economic conditions.

After leaving the hospital, Biden was scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

His trip to the West Bank has drawn skepticism and bitterness from Palestinians who believe Biden has taken too few steps to rejuvenate the peace talks, especially after President Donald Trump sidelined them while heavily favoring Israel.

When Biden finished speaking at the hospital, a woman who identified herself as a pediatric nurse at another health facility thanked him for the financial assistance but said “we need more justice, more of dignity”.

The last serious round of negotiations aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state failed more than a decade ago, leaving millions of Palestinians to live under Israeli military rule.

The outgoing government of Israel has taken steps to improve economic conditions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But Yair Lapid, the interim prime minister, has no mandate to lead peace talks, and the November 1 elections could bring to power a right-wing government opposed to a Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, 86-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority administers parts of the occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security, is more representative of the status quo than of Palestinian aspirations.

His Fatah party lost an election and control of Gaza to the Islamic militant group Hamas more than 15 years ago. He canceled the first national elections since last year – blaming Israel – as Fatah appeared to be heading for another landslide defeat. Polls over the past year have consistently shown that almost 80% of Palestinians want him to quit.

Biden acknowledged this week that while he supports a two-state solution, it won’t happen “in the short term.” The United States also appears to have accepted defeat in its more modest effort to reopen a Jerusalem consulate serving Palestinians that was closed when President Donald Trump recognized the disputed city as Israel’s capital.

Palestinian leaders also fear being further undermined by the Abraham Accords, a diplomatic vehicle for Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel despite the continued occupation. Biden, who is traveling next door to Saudi Arabia to attend an Arab leaders’ summit, hopes to expand that process, which began under Trump.

Hours before Biden would become the first American leader to fly directly from Israel to the kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s General Civil Aviation Authority announced early on Friday “the decision to open the airspace of the Kingdom to all air carriers that meet the Authority’s requirements for overflying.

It marked the end of its long-standing ban on Israeli flights flying over its territory — a gradual step towards normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel that builds on the strong but informal ties that once-enemies have developed in recent years due to their shared concerns about Iran’s growing influence in the region.

Biden hailed the decision in a statement Friday as an important step to “help build momentum toward Israel’s deeper integration into the region.”

There has been virtually no mention of the Palestinians in the past two days, as Biden showered Israel with praise, portraying it as a democracy that shares American values. During a press conference with Biden, Lapid invoked the American civil rights movement to portray Israel as a bastion of freedom.

It all reeked of hypocrisy for the Palestinians, who have endured 55 years of military occupation with no end in sight.

“The idea of ​​shared values ​​makes my stomach ache,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and political analyst. “I don’t think Israeli values ​​are something people should strive for.”

Both Biden and Lapid have said they support an eventual two-state solution to ensure Israel remains a Jewish-majority state. But Biden is expected to announce little beyond financial aid, including $201 million for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

Biden has offered $100 million, subject to US Congressional approval, for hospitals in East Jerusalem that serve Palestinians. Another $15 million is for humanitarian aid, plus $7.2 million for programs to promote cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.

His approach, often referred to as “economic peace”, has limits.

“You can’t buy a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Aaron David Miller, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former US State Department official. “It doesn’t work, because that’s not what’s driving this conflict.”

That sentiment was evident Thursday in the West Bank, where dozens of Palestinians gathered to protest Biden. More protests were expected on Friday.

“Mr. Biden is trying to marginalize the Palestinian issue,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a veteran Palestinian activist. last chance for peace.”

At this point, the Palestinian goal of an independent state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza – territories seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – seems further away than ever.

Israel is expanding settlements in annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which are now home to some 700,000 Jewish settlers. Palestinians view settlements – many of which look like sprawling suburbs – as the main obstacle to peace, as they carve up the land on which a Palestinian state would be established. Most people consider them illegal.

Military rule in the West Bank has sown widespread despair, contributing to a recent wave of violence. A 15-year blockade of Gaza, which Israel says is necessary to contain Hamas, has helped fuel four devastating wars. Jerusalem, home to famous holy sites and the emotional heart of the conflict, is more volatile than ever.

Israel has its own grievances – including PA payments to the families of prisoners and slain assailants, which Israel says incite violence. The PA defends the payments as a form of welfare for those it sees as victims of the conflict.

It is unclear whether eliminating the “martyrs’ fund” would advance the goal of a state. Israel is dominated by nationalist and religious parties that oppose a Palestinian state and see the West Bank as the biblical and historic heartland of the Jewish people.

Well-known human rights groups have concluded that Israel’s seemingly permanent control over millions of Palestinians amounts to apartheid. One such group, Israel’s own B’Tselem, hung banners in the West Bank ahead of Biden’s visit.

Israel rejects the label as an attack on its very existence, even though two former Israeli prime ministers warned years ago that their country would be treated as such if it failed to reach a two-state deal with the Palestinians . The United States also rejects the apartheid allegations.

Biden will also likely see banners calling for justice for Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in an Israeli military raid in the West Bank in May. Israel says she may have been hit by Palestinian gunfire, while Associated Press and other media investigations support Palestinian witnesses who say she was shot by Israeli forces.

The United States says she was probably killed by Israeli troops but it appeared to be unintentional, without saying how they reached these conclusions. This angered many Palestinians, including Abu Akleh’s family, who accused the United States of trying to help Israel escape responsibility for his death.


Krauss reported from Ottawa. Megerian reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.