Biden heads to West Bank, with little to offer Palestinians

BETHLEHEM: No clear path to start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, US President Joe Biden offered an American money as a treatment while visiting a local hospital on Friday.
“Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measure of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity,” he said at the East Jerusalem Hospital Network serving 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 funding requires U.S. Congressional approval, Biden is also announcing $201 million to the United Nations agency on Palestinian refugees, plus a smaller amount. for different programs.
Israel has also committed to upgrading wireless networks in the West Bank and Gaza, part of a broader effort to improve economic conditions.
After being discharged from the hospital, Biden traveled to Bethlehem to meet with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and visit the Church of the Nativity. He was greeted by a pair of Palestinian children, who presented him with a bouquet of flowers and a band playing the US national anthem.
Biden’s trip to the West Bank is met with skepticism and bitterness among Palestinians, who believe Biden has taken too few steps in rejuvenating peace talks, especially after the President Donald Trump eliminated them while being very pro-Israel.
As Biden finished his hospital speech, a woman who identified herself as a pediatric nurse at another health care facility thanked him for the financial support but said “we need more fairness, more dignity.”
The last serious round of negotiations to create an independent Palestinian state collapsed more than a decade ago, leaving millions of Palestinians under Israeli military rule.
The outgoing government of Israel has taken steps to improve economic conditions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. However, prime minister Yair Lapid is not tasked with organizing peace talks and the November 1 election could bring power to a right-wing government opposed to the Palestinian statehood.
Meanwhile, 86-year-old Abbas, who has the Palestinian Authority in charge of parts of the occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security, is more representative of the status quo than the aspirations of the Palestinians.
His Fatah party lost an election and control of Gaza fell to the Islamist militant group Hamas more than 15 years ago. He suspended his first national election since then last year – blaming Israel – as Fatah appeared to be headed for another crushing defeat. Polls over the past year consistently show that nearly 80% of Palestinians want him to resign.
This week, Biden acknowledged that while he favors a two-state solution, that won’t happen “for the time being.” The United States also appears to have accepted defeat in a more modest effort to reopen its consulate in Jerusalem serving Palestinians that was closed when Trump recognized the disputed city as Israel’s capital.
Palestinian leaders also fear further damage by the Agreement of Abraham, a diplomatic vehicle for Arab states to normalize relations with Israel despite the continued occupation. Biden, who stood by Saudi Arabia for the summit of Arab leaders, hopes to expand that process, which began under Trump.
Hours before Biden is set to become the first US leader to fly non-stop from Israel to the kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation announced early Friday the “decision to open air traffic to the kingdom.” division of the Kingdom for all airlines that meet the Authority’s requirements for excess. ”
It signals the end of a long-standing ban on Israeli flights over its territory – an incremental step towards normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, built on on the strong but informal relationship the former adversaries have developed in recent years because of 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 towards Israel’s deeper integration into the region.”
There has been hardly any mention of the Palestinians over the past two days, as Biden has praised Israel as a democracy that shares American values. At a press conference with Biden, Lapid invoked the US civil rights movement to portray Israel as a bastion of freedom.
It all boils down to hypocrisy towards the Palestinians, who have endured 55 years of unending military occupation.
“The idea of ​​shared values ​​really gives me a stomachache,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and political analyst. “I don’t think Israeli values ​​are anything that people should strive towards.”
Both Biden and Lapid have said they support an eventual two-state solution to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish-majority country. But their approach, often called “economic peace,” has limitations.
Mr. Mustafa Barghouti, a veteran Palestinian activist, said Biden is trying to marginalize the Palestinian issue. help Israel kill and put an end to the possibility of eventual peace.”
At this point, the Palestinians’ goal of an independent state in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza – territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war – seems more distant than ever. .
Israel is expanding settlements in the annexed east of Jerusalem and the West Bank, now home to some 700,000 Jewish settlers. Palestinians see the settlements – many of them resembling vast suburbs – as the main obstacle to peace, because they create the land on which a Palestinian state will be established. Most of the world considers them illegal.
Prominent human rights groups have concluded that Israel’s seemingly permanent control of millions of Palestinians has racist connotations. One of those groups, Israel’s B’Tselem, hung banners in the West Bank visible from the president’s motorcade.
Israel dismisses the label as an attack on its very existence, even though two former Israeli prime ministers warned years ago that their country would be viewed as such if no two-way agreement was reached. state with the Palestinians. The US also denied the accusations of racism.
Other banners along the convoy route called 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 bullets, while AP and other media investigations in favor of Palestinian witnesses say she was shot by Israeli forces. .
The US said she was likely unintentionally killed by the Israeli military, but did not say how they reached those conclusions. That angered many Palestinians, including Abu Akleh’s family, who accused the US of trying to help Israel avoid responsibility for her death.
In Bethlehem, Palestinian journalists covering Biden’s visit wore black T-shirts with an image of Abu Akleh on the front in solidarity with their slain colleague.

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