‘Trump years with a smile’: Palestinians reject Biden’s trip

After hearing Joe Biden call Jerusalem Israel’s capital and acknowledge that a two-state solution seems “far away,” one Palestinian official slammed the US president’s visit to the region.

“It’s like the Trump years with a smile,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, hated the Palestinians for his unequivocal pro-Israel policies.

As Israeli politics stalled, few thought the 79-year-old Biden could jump-start peace talks that have stalled since 2014.

But there was moderate optimism that Biden’s Friday meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem could yield modest results.

The Palestinians hoped that the US president would finally follow through on his promise to reopen a consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

The mission was closed by Trump in 2019 and is strongly opposed by Israel, which considers the city its “undivided” capital.

The resumption of the mission could serve as a “shot in the arm” to the peace process, said another Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But the US leader has offered no substantive plan to fix the Israeli occupation, even refusing to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank, an issue that has been under the radar of former President Barack Obama’s administration, in which Biden served as vice president.

The US delegation, however, announced plans for 4G Internet access in the West Bank and the Israeli blockaded Gaza Strip, responding to a longstanding Palestinian demand that has been repeatedly blocked by Israel.

Biden’s Zionist Declaration

The president’s visit got off to a bad start for the Palestinians when Biden said at an Israeli welcoming ceremony, “You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist.”

While every US president since the creation of Israel in 1948 has arguably met the technical definition of Zionism by actively supporting the existence of a Jewish state, Biden’s comment last Wednesday was rare, if not unprecedented, for a US leader, and the Palestinians took note.

“He came to Israel and said he was a ‘Zionist’, then he came to Palestine and refused to talk about the foundations of the conflict,” the first official said.

A protester who attended a rally during the president’s visit to Bethlehem held up a banner that read: “Biden, Jerusalem is Palestine, regardless of your Zionism.”

The Palestinians have declared the Israeli-annexed eastern part of the city their capital.

Biden has publicly supported the recognition of western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for decades and has said he will not reverse Trump’s controversial decision to move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv.

“We are so weak”

On the peace process, Biden reaffirmed his support for Palestinian statehood, calling for perseverance even when conditions seem bleak.

“I know the two-state goal seems so far away,” he said in Bethlehem.

“But we never give up on the cause of peace,” he added. “There must be a political horizon that the Palestinian people can actually see or at least feel. We cannot let hopelessness steal the future.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Sunday that the difficult nature of the peace talks does not justify US inaction.

“If, as the US President said, a (two-state) solution is not currently achievable, then the (Jewish) settlements must be frozen immediately in accordance with international law and resolutions to preserve the right of the Palestinian people to their independent state,” Shtayyeh said.

According to Tahani Mustafa, a West Bank analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank, Biden’s visit left “no sign that the plight of the Palestinian people has any place on his administration’s agenda.”

Initial plans for a joint statement by Biden and Abbas on Friday were canceled as the parties failed to agree on language, sources close to the Palestinian leadership said.

For Palestinians seeking US leadership capable of forcing Israel to concede, watching the Biden delegation fly from Tel Aviv to Saudi Arabia on Friday after a brief, unremarkable meeting with Abbas brought a familiar feeling of frustration.

“As usual, we’re left with crumbs,” Issa Abu Ayash told AFP as he watched TV in a Bethlehem cafe showing images of Biden’s motorcade heading for an Israeli airport.

“We are so weak here,” he said.