Biden offers different messages to Israelis and Palestinians

JERUSALEM. On Friday before leaving Israel for Saudi Arabia, President Biden delivered contrasting messages to Israelis and Palestinians, announcing new steps to integrate Israel in the Middle East and warning Palestinians that now is not the time for new peace talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. . .

mr. Biden began the day by announcing that Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Arab country, would allow direct flights to and from Israel. After years of secret behind-the-scenes negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, this agreement was the Saudis’ first open step towards official relations.

Hailed by Mr. Biden as “historic,” it was the latest sign of Israel’s growing acceptance among Arab leaders after years of regional isolation as fears of a nuclear Iran, shared by both Israel and a few Sunni Arab leaders, supplanted Arab solidarity with the Palestinians.

For the Palestinians, Mr. Biden offered sympathy and funding, but few long-term prospects. During a brief visit to the West Bank, he announced more than $300 million for Palestinian hospitals and refugees, some of which is subject to Congressional approval. And he said that Israel has agreed to give the Palestinians access to 4G internet, but this decision has not yet been confirmed by Israel.

He also reaffirmed his support for a future Palestinian state with at least part of Jerusalem as its capital, and said that the growing recognition of Israel in the Arab world could give new impetus to the dormant peace process.

But Mr. Biden warned that “the ground is not yet ripe for a resumption of talks at this point” and announced no long-term program to restart them, except in the hope that shifting alliances in the Middle East might at some point allow a breakthrough. in the Israeli political question. Palestinian relations.

“At this moment, as Israel improves relations with its neighbors across the region, we can use that same momentum to revitalize the peace process between the Palestinian people and the Israelis,” he said. Biden said, referring both to the new overflight arrangements in Saudi Arabia and a number of previous agreements between Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

This juxtaposition highlighted the central dichotomy of his 49-hour visit to Israel and the West Bank.

For Israelis, it was a source of celebration – the arrival of a self-proclaimed Zionist, one of his oldest and most loyal friends, and now the standard bearer of Israel’s integration in the Middle East.

“A visit that shook our entire country,” Acting Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid summed up. Biden flew to Saudi Arabia.

For the Palestinians, part of the visit could have been sweet: Biden brought funding, attention, and reassurance that the US continued to support the concept of Palestinian sovereignty.

But it was also a reminder that Palestinian aspirations are not a priority for the Biden administration. mr. Biden spent just three hours in the West Bank versus 46 hours in Israel. And he disappointed the Palestinians by avoiding criticism of Israel, dispelled hopes of a renewed US-led peace process, and supported several Trump administration decisions widely criticized by the Palestinians.

“Mr. President,” said Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, at a joint press briefing with Mr. Prayer in Bethlehem. “Isn’t it time to end this occupation?”

Some praised Mr. Biden’s decision to restore US funding to the Palestinian hospital network, with hospital director Fadi Atrush saying the president “brings hope to thousands of Palestinian patients.”

But others have portrayed the promises of additional aid as mere short-term measures that have done little to address the more fundamental issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Nurse Whose Hospital Would Benefit From Mr. Biden’s Funding Pledge Thanked Him for the Donation But Said The Palestinians Needed More Than Money.

“We need more justice, we need more dignity,” she urged him after he announced funding for the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem.

Disappointment was also caused by the news of another thaw in relations between Israel and the Arab world.

For years, most Arab leaders have said they will not recognize Israel until an independent Palestinian state is established. In 2002, Saudi Arabia itself came up with a peace proposal based on this premise. Abbas during a meeting with M. Biden tried to send the same idea.

“The key to peace and security in our region begins with the recognition of the state of Palestine,” he said. Abbas said.

But Mr. Biden’s own words and actions seem to belie that notion.

A few hours later, Mr. Biden was on his way to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was one of the first open direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia – the latest sign of Israel gaining regional recognition as security concerns and trade ambitions take on more importance to some Arab leaders than an immediate resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. .

Overall, this is a dark time for the Palestinians, as their leadership is divided between the Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that wrested control of Gaza from the authorities in 2007. Most Palestinians see no hope. reconciliation recent polls.

The blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt has been going on for 15 years. In 2021, one in four Palestinians was unemployed. Seven out of ten say they believe a Palestinian state is no longer possible due to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, according to a June report. interview. Nearly 80 percent want the resignation of Mr. Abbas, who last faced elections in 2005, and the vast majority see both the government and Hamas as corrupt.

Against this backdrop, Mr. Biden has been mildly critical of the Palestinian leadership. “The Palestinian Authority also has important work to do, if you don’t mind if I tell you,” he said. Biden said. “The time has come to strengthen Palestinian institutions for better governance, transparency and accountability.”

But many Palestinians have their own criticisms of the Biden administration: 65 percent of them oppose dialogue between their leadership and the United States.

mr. Biden has not formally reversed the Trump administration’s decision to legalize Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which much of the world considers illegal. Under pressure from Israel, he did not reopen the US Consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Legation in Washington, both of which were closed under Mr. Trump. Trump.

The Biden administration has also angered the Palestinians by recently refusing to push Israel to open a criminal investigation into the May murder of Palestinian American journalist Shirin Abu Akle, during which numerous investigations were carried out. including one from The New York Timesdiscovered that the bullets had been fired from the location of an Israeli army unit.

Palestinians demonstrated against Mr. Biden on Friday in both Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and some Palestinians criticized him. Abbas for meeting him.

“Palestinians see the US as a partner in the occupation, whether it be financing or political support for Israel,” said Suhaib Zahda, 39, a political activist from the West Bank city of Nablus.

mr. Biden said he sympathized with the disappointment of the Palestinians. “The Palestinian people are in pain right now – you can just feel it,” he said on Friday, adding that the Palestinian experience reminded him of his own Irish heritage and the Irish struggle under colonial British rule.

The President quoted a verse from “The Cure for Troy,” a poem by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney that he often quotes:

History says don’t hope
This side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
A welcome tidal wave
Justice may rise
And hope and history rhyme

mr. Biden then added that he hoped “we’re getting close to one of those moments where hope and history rhyme.”

He did not elaborate on how or why.

Hiba Yazbek provided a report from Jerusalem.