Biden offers platitudes and ‘confidence-building’ measures in meeting with Abbas – Mondoweiss

US President Joe Biden arrived in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, on Friday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the last leg of his two-day tour of Israel and the West Bank before the president travels to Saudi Arabia.

Biden was greeted by Abbas during an arrival ceremony at the presidential compound in Bethlehem, where the two men held a press conference in front of Palestinian and foreign officials, diplomats and a number of journalists.

During the press conference, Biden spoke about Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli forces in May while wearing her blue body armor and helmet, marked PRESS.

Struggling to pronounce his name correctly, Biden said Abu Akleh’s death was a “huge loss to the essential work of sharing the story of the Palestinian people with the world.”

He said the United States “will continue to insist on a full and transparent account of his death and will continue to defend media freedom everywhere.”

While journalists were not allowed to ask questions during the conference, a number of Palestinian journalists wore black t-shirts with Abu Akleh’s face printed on the front, alongside the words #JusticeForShireen.

During his address, Abbas said that “the killers of martyred journalist Shireen Abu Akleh must be held accountable.”

Abbas and other Palestinian officials, as well as Abu Akleh’s family, dismissed a recent State Department report that officials “could not reach a definitive conclusion” about who killed Abu Akleh. The report was widely met with anger and frustration by Palestinians, who continued to demand a full independent investigation into the journalist’s murder.

The US State Department has jurisdiction to seek accountability for the murder of Abu Akeh, who holds US citizenship. Historically, the US government has not sought accountability for citizens killed by Israeli fire, including Rachel Corrie, killed in Gaza in 2003 by Israeli forces.

“[Biden] has even given up on its own citizens’ concerns regarding Israeli violations. With regard to Palestine, it is clear that it is not a priority or on its agenda, except in the way it serves Israel,” said Palestinian researcher and analyst Ubai Aboudi, executive director of the Bisan Center. for research and development. Mondoweiss.

“Two-State Solution”

At the Bethlehem press conference, Biden reaffirmed the official US position supporting the two-state solution — a proposal that Palestinians and rights groups say has been dead for years, while Israel continues to illegally build settlements in the occupied territory and to change the facts on the ground.

“Two states along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed exchanges remain the best way to achieve equal measures of security, prosperity, freedom and democracy for Palestinians as well as Israelis,” Biden said.

He went on to say that “the Palestinian people deserve a state that is independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous to them”, but that “the ground is not ripe” to resume peace talks.

The US president did not speak about the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territory, which are illegal under international law and considered by Palestinians to be one of the biggest obstacles to the establishment of a Palestinian state viable.

Palestinian writer and analyst from Jerusalem, Jalal Abu Khater, 27, reflected on the US president’s speech, noting “[Biden] addressed the issue of Shireen, he addressed the issue of the two-state solution, he addressed Jerusalem without any type of strong language or any type of commitment.

“Biden represents a continuation of Trump’s policies, particularly on Jerusalem.”

Palestinian writer and analyst Jalal Abu Khater

“He didn’t mention East Jerusalem as the capital of the two-state solution, which is also a downgrade,” Abu Khater said.

“[Biden] insisted so much on the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, so he’s just here for a ceremonial visit and there’s nothing significant that will come out of this visit. He only speaks lip service,” Abu Khater said. Mondoweiss.

At the press conference, Abbas said that “the key to peace” in the region “begins with an end to the Israeli occupation of our land”. Abbas also called on Biden to reopen the closed US consulate in occupied East Jerusalem and remove the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from the US “terrorist” list.

“We know that the Palestinians only get crumbs from such a decision while the Israelis get legitimacy and a form of whitewashing of their crimes. They get a sort of lifeboat to stay relevant in the international political arena,” Abu Khater explained.

US President Joe Biden visits the Church of the Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the West Bank on July 15, 2022. (Photo: Ahmad Mezher/WAFA/POOL)

“confidence-building measures”

Biden ended his trip to Bethlehem with a visit to the Church of the Nativity, which Christians believe to be the birthplace of Jesus, before heading to Saudi Arabia. Earlier in the day, Biden visited Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem where he announced $100 million in US aid for hospitals in East Jerusalem.

Augusta Victoria Hospital is one of six hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem that provide life-saving treatment to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including cancer radiation and chemotherapy treatments and pediatric kidney dialysis.

Biden called the six hospitals “the backbone of the Palestinian healthcare system.” Funding is subject to Congressional approval and will be disbursed over several years.

During Donald Trump’s tenure as president, he cut US funding for hospitals by $25 million as part of his broader effort to cut US aid to the Palestinian government and agencies like UNRWA.

While renewing funding to a number of Palestinian bodies, the US has maintained its billions of dollars in military support for Israel despite evidence of the organisations’ crimes of persecution, apartheid and ethnic cleansing defense of human rights.

“When they send unconditional military aid to the Israeli army and the same military equipment is used to kill Palestinians, including American citizens, then they are actively participating in the crime,” Aboudi told Mondoweiss.

The funding for the hospital is part of a broader announcement of “confidence-building measures” by the United States aimed at bolstering the PA’s position. The United States on Thursday evening announced a total of $316 million in support for the Palestinians, with the majority ($201 million) going to UNRWA, which provides humanitarian aid to millions of Palestinian refugees.

The latest tranche of money pledged to UNRWA brings the Biden administration’s total support for the organization to $618 million since the start of 2021 – much-needed financial relief for the agency, which has taken a huge hit. financial when Trump cut funding during his presidency.

An additional $15 million in humanitarian assistance will be provided to address food insecurity and other issues in the West Bank and Gaza, and an additional $7 million in grants for programs that “foster collaboration and exchanges Israeli-Palestinian”.

The United States also announced that Israel, which controls Palestinian telecommunications networks, will also allow Palestinians to achieve 4G connectivity by the end of next year and will work to “facilitate access”. at the Allenby Bridge, the land border where millions of Palestinians are forced. to use to enter Jordan, as they are prohibited from passing through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

These measures, however, require Israeli follow-up, and many Palestinians are both skeptical and critical.

“Biden represents a continuation of Trump’s policies, especially on Jerusalem,” Abu Khater said. An alternative path to US foreign policy in the region, Abu Khater said, is “to end all complicity in the crimes that Israel continues to commit and to stop treating Israel as if it were a state above the law”.

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