US President Joe Biden is in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the last leg of his trip to the Middle East, flying direct from Tel Aviv on Friday, just hours after the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced the opening of its airspace to “all airlines”, putting an end to the country. ban on flights to and from Israel.
The decision is a gesture by Riyadh as part of a broader warming in relations between Israel and the Arab world as they align against the threat from Iran. Biden claims it is the result of her administration’s push toward a more integrated and stable Middle East region.
“While this opening has been discussed for a long time, now, thanks to months of constant diplomacy between my Administration and Saudi Arabia, it is finally a reality. Today I will be the first president of the United States to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” Biden said in a statement.
Biden said the Saudi decision may “help build momentum toward further integration of Israel in the region,” including with the kingdom itself, suggesting a possible diplomatic normalization that would be the most significant expansion of the Abraham Accords of the era. Trump.
At the same time, his administration sought to mend ties with the Palestinians, offering economic and technical assistance as he met with President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, in Bethlehem on Friday.
The 2020 Abraham Accords normalized relations between Israel and neighboring Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as with Sudan and Morocco. The Palestinians say the deal sets aside their state cause as Arab nations no longer retain diplomatic relations seeking to pressure Israel to negotiate a two-state solution and improve its treatment of Palestinians in the territories it occupies.
Under the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, the Saudi-led Arab nations made normalization of relations with Israel conditional on “acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state in the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967, in West Bank and Gaza Strip. , with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Two state solution
Hosting Biden at his presidential compound in Bethlehem, Abbas urged Biden to support a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the “1967 borders,” a common reference to the 1949 Armistice Agreements that established demarcation lines after the 1948 Arab War. -Israeli War.
“Mr. President, after 74 years of displacement and occupation of the Nakba, is it not time for this occupation to end?” said the Palestinian leader in his joint appearance with Biden.
Biden reiterated his support for the Palestinian state, acknowledging what he called the “indignities” Palestinians must endure, including travel restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities and “daily concern for the safety of their children.”
“The Palestinian people are suffering now,” Biden said. “You can feel, you can just feel it, your pain and frustration. In the United States, we can feel it.”
However, he did not offer a peace plan.
“Even if the ground is not ripe at this point to restart negotiations, the United States and my administration will not stop trying to bring the Palestinians and Israelis and both sides closer together,” he said.
Biden did not criticize the expansion of Israeli settlements, nor did he announce the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem that served as the American mission to the Palestinians, the reopening of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, and the elimination from the US State Department’s Foreign Ministry’s PLO Terrorist Organizations List – demands that Abbas repeated in his statements.
As his administration pushes for greater security and economic ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Biden suggested building on “that same momentum to reinvigorate the peace process between the Palestinian people and the Israelis.”
The main objective of the Biden administration is “to keep open the possibility in the future of a two-state solution and to manage the conflict so that it does not explode,” Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Department of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, told VOA. .
In a statement, Biden reiterated the US position that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and that sovereignty boundaries in Jerusalem must be resolved through final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Rynhold said the Biden administration and the Israeli government are on the same page: Neither believes there is a serious opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Renewal of ties between the United States and Palestine
Biden unveiled a new economic and technical assistance package for the Palestinian people, including funds to support hospitals in East Jerusalem as part of a multi-year commitment to help Palestinian health services.
“Today I am pleased to announce that the United States is committing an additional $100 million to support these hospitals, their staff who work for the Palestinian people,” Biden said during remarks from Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem.
Last year, his administration resumed $235 million in US assistance to the Palestinians, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which had been almost entirely eliminated by the former president. donald trump On Friday, Biden announced an additional $201 million for the agency to continue providing services to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Other announcements include initiatives focused on Palestinian economic development, such as developing 4G wireless networks in Gaza and the West Bank, and working with Israelis to loosen travel restrictions from the West Bank to Jordan.
But “his rhetoric aside,” in the eyes of the Palestinian public, Biden is no different than his predecessor, Donald Trump, according to Ghassan Khatib, a professor at Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority official.
“Biden is trying to make it up to him by replacing political obligations with financial ones, which is disappointing for the Palestinians,” Khatib told VOA.
Shireen Abu Akleh
Abbas also demanded responsibility for the death of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot in May while covering an arrest operation by Israeli security forces and clashes in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank. .
The Biden administration is accused of trying to shield Israel from taking full responsibility for Akleh’s death. An investigation overseen by US and international experts concluded that firing from Israel Defense Forces positions “was likely responsible,” but “found no reason to believe this was intentional.”
Akleh, an American citizen, was doing “vital democracy work” and her death is “an enormous loss to the essential work of sharing the story of the Palestinian people with the world,” Biden said, mispronouncing the journalist’s name as “Alkehli. ”
“The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent account of his death, and we will continue to defend press freedom around the world,” Biden said.
At Abbas and Biden’s joint press conference, reporters left an empty chair with a poster of the slain journalist in his honor. His family has demanded to meet with Biden while he is in the region, but so far no meeting has been scheduled.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke with his family and invited them to Washington, according to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.