US President Joe Biden visits Saudi Arabia for final leg of his Middle East tour – Eurasia Review

US President Joe Biden is heading to Saudi Arabia, on board for the final destination of his Middle East tour, after spending the last two days in Israel and Palestine.

Today, Biden said in a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas that the Palestinians need a political path to peace with Israel, even if a two-state solution to the conflict seems distant.

Biden, making his first visit to the Palestinian territories as president, also reaffirmed an “all-out” US effort to hold to account the murder of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Biden, who has repeatedly stressed his support for Palestinian statehood since arriving in the region on Wednesday, acknowledged that “the goal of two states seems so distant” with the peace process moribund since 2014.

“There must be a political horizon that the Palestinian people can actually see or at least feel. We cannot let despair steal the future,” Biden said during his visit to Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Abbas expressed longstanding Palestinian frustrations over five decades of Israeli occupation.

The veteran leader said the Palestinians “look forward” to US efforts to “stop settlements and settler violence” and an end to the “expulsion of Palestinians from their land”.

“The key to peace begins with the recognition of the State of Palestine,” Abbas said.

On Abu Akleh, a revered veteran journalist among Palestinians, Biden described his death as “a tremendous loss to the essential work of sharing the story of the Palestinian people with the world.”

She was killed while covering an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin in May.

The United Nations concluded that she was killed by Israeli fire, which Washington said likely while noting that the United States found no evidence to suggest that Israeli forces intended to kill an unnamed journalist. armed.

“I hope his legacy inspires more young people to carry out his work of reporting the truth and telling stories too often overlooked. The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent account of his death,” Biden said.

Earlier, President Biden offered US cash on Friday 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 health care aid requires US Congressional approval, Biden is also announcing $201 million for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, as well as smaller amounts for other 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.

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 assistance, 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 more distant 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.

Kevin E. Boling