The short drive that takes President Biden from Jerusalem to Bethlehem passes a huge mural of a smiling woman in body armor, yellow paint highlighting her brown hair.
The painting depicts Palestinian American journalist Shirin Abu Akle, who was shot dead in May, probably by Israeli forces. The Biden administration’s response – a low-key condemnation, an inconclusive investigation – is the latest in a long list of Palestinian grievances against the current US government.
For decades, Middle Eastern diplomacy has usually revolved around the Palestinian demand for statehood and how to get it.
However, under Biden four day trip this week to israelin the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia, his only meeting with the leader of the Palestinian government is seen as little more than a courtesy call. And reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians is not on Biden’s to-do list. Instead, the trip focus on Iran and regional security.
Upon arriving here on Wednesday, Biden said that continued to support the two-state solution – the concept of an independent Palestinian country next to Israel. But, the president acknowledged, such a historic step will not take place “in the near future”.
At a later press conference, Biden reiterated his longstanding stance that “Israel must remain an independent, democratic Jewish state.”
“I believe in this to the core, and the best way to achieve this remains a two-state solution,” he said.
But he also said he has not reversed the Trump-era claim that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, a controversial position as Palestinians claim part of the contested holy city is their capital of a future state.
Given the political situation in Israel and the Palestinian leadership, administration officials said there was no room to resume talks. Israel is about to hold its fifth national election in four years with a transitional government.
On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas remained in office ten years after the legal expiration of his term and refused to hold new elections. To complicate matters further, the Palestinian leadership is divided between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the more militant Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian issue has been sharply marginalized by former President Trump. Except moving the US embassy here from Tel Aviv. Trump has cut most aid to the Palestinians and closed their de facto embassy in Washington. He also closed the US consulate in Jerusalem, which served the Palestinians.
Trump’s policy was one-sidedly pro-Israel. Biden has advocated canceling most of them and reviving the peace process, and his rhetoric has raised expectations among the Palestinians.
But in 18 months of his presidency, Biden failed to deliver on key promises, and the Palestinians have become deeply disillusioned with his administration.
“Biden’s approach to the Palestinians was already pretty minimalist: he focused on reversing the most disruptive changes made under Donald Trump while spending the least amount of political capital,” Khaled, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said in a recent interview. Elgindi. Forum. “And yet the administration’s policies have not achieved this already modest goal.”
Biden administration officials insist they had much to rebuild after Trump. The US government has resumed aid to the Palestinians, they said. resumed diplomatic contacts.
But that’s all.
More importantly, Palestinian activists say, the Biden administration turned a blind eye to Israel’s rapid settlement of the West Bank and the demolition of Palestinian homes. The settlements, considered illegal by much of the international community under the Geneva Convention, have turned the West Bank into a Swiss cheese landscape that will make it impossible for Palestinians to establish a continuous viable state in the area, Palestinians say.
Already bitter The Palestinians were furious when journalist Abu Akle was shot dead during an Israeli raid on the Palestinian city and Jenin refugee camp on 11 May. Although she was wearing a bulletproof vest with the inscription “PRESS” and a helmet, a bullet. The Palestinians were quick to blame Israel; Israel said it was likely the work of a Palestinian militant.
The State Department deplored the “terrible tragedy” but went no further than that.
In June, a United Nations human rights commission concluded that Abu Akle had been shot dead by the Israelis, adding that “several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired at her and a group of six other journalists” by Israeli security forces. . ”
On July 4, the State Department announced that ‘Probably’ fatal shot fired by Israeli forces but there was “no evidence” that it was a premeditated murder. It was not clear how the US-appointed investigators arrived at this second conclusion, since they did not interrogate Israeli army personnel. Israel eventually admitted that its soldiers may have killed the journalist “accidentally”.
(The Palestinians initially refused to hand over the bullet removed from Abu Akla’s body, but eventually handed it over to US authorities for forensic examination. The US concluded that the bullet was too badly mutilated to determine who fired it.)
Abu Akle, whose funeral in a Greek Catholic church was thwarted by Israeli forces who said mourners threw stones at them, was a veteran reporter for Al Jazeera and something of a journalistic icon in Palestinian families. She was also a US citizen.
Her family demands justice and a meeting with Biden. Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken, who is accompanying Biden, called the family this week and invited them to Washington.
In a letter to Biden, the family accused the State Department of “whitewashing” its findings and said the US was “hiding in an effort to erase any wrongdoing by Israeli forces.”
Palestinian activists say the killing and the way the investigation was conducted added fuel to the unsettled anger fueled by the neglect and hostility that prevails in the occupied territories. The difficulties are exacerbated by increasingly repressive Palestinian Authority security forces cracking down on dissent.
Diana Buttu, a lawyer and former Palestinian Authority adviser, said Palestinians initially hoped that things might change when Biden took office. Instead, they believe that he went “in step” with the policies that Trump pursued.
“Not in tone, but in practice,” she said in a video call from Haifa. “Trump has laid the foundation and Biden is not stopping it.”
Agreements opening ties between Israel and several Arab countries that never acknowledged its existence – first brokered by Trump and expanded by Biden – further discouraged the Palestinians, who believed that the Arab countries would normalize relations with Israel only after there was resolved the issue of statehood.
The Biden administration argues that broad normalization will make the region safer, which will ultimately benefit the Palestinians as well. Most Palestinians don’t see it that way, as their most important bargaining chip has evaporated.