JERUSALEM — After two days of reaffirming America’s unshakable alliance with Israel, President Joe Biden will turn his attention Friday to the plight of the Palestinians, though he has already acknowledged he cannot give them what they need. ‘they want.
Shortly after arriving in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Biden said he still supported the creation of an independent Palestinian nation alongside Israel, but knew that would not happen anytime soon.
Instead, Biden visited a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem where he announced humanitarian aid and will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
Restore links: Biden has focused during his presidency on restoring ties with Palestinians that had been severed under the Trump administration. The creation of an independent Palestinian nation alongside Israel has been the North Star of a negotiated settlement to the decades-old conflict. In recent years, various developments have reduced this prospect, including internal political divisions on both sides.
Another setback: Some Palestinian influence was lost when Israel normalized relations with several Arab countries, a process begun under the Trump administration and which the Biden administration hopes to expand.
Biden’s approach: While the Trump administration viewed the so-called Abraham Accords as a substitute for progress on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, the Biden administration hopes to leverage normalization as a bridge to progress on the issue.
Small steps: As a sign of progress, the Biden administration pointed to the recent phone call between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the first such contact in several years.
Saudi openings: Biden is traveling to Saudi Arabia after his meetings in Israel on Friday. Ahead of his arrival, the Saudis opened their airspace to “all air carriers”, signaling the end of their long-standing ban on Israeli flights flying over their territory – a key step towards normalization between the two nations. The White House said the move paves the way for “a more integrated, stable and secure Middle East region.”
What is happening
Biden announces several initiatives to benefit the Palestinian people, including more than $316 million in aid for various programs.
About $100 million will go to the network of hospitals in East Jerusalem to improve Palestinians’ access to health services, such as oncology, dialysis, neonatal intensive care and specialized maternity care.
Another $201 million will go to a United Nations relief program to provide essential services to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Other initiatives include aid for food security, extending 4G digital access to the West Bank and Gaza, and reviving economic talks between Palestinians and Israelis.
why is it important
East Jerusalem is predominantly Arab and claimed by Palestinian leaders as the future capital of their independent state.
Since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, Israeli government officials have participated in visits to East Jerusalem by US officials. But they won’t be accompanying Biden on Friday.
Biden is not expected to announce progress toward his pledge to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem, which had served as a de facto embassy.
Biden’s attempts to improve conditions for Palestinians within the confines of the unwavering support that the United States generally extends to Israel, its main ally in the Middle East, is an exercise in balancing harsh geopolitical realities against its lofty promise. to place human rights at the center of its foreign policy. The other big test of his four-day trip to the Middle East is his final stopover in Saudi Arabia.
Ahead of Biden’s arrival Friday night, Saudi Arabia announced it would open its airspace to all civilian aircraft, including those to and from Israel. Biden said the move was the result of months of “constant diplomacy” between his administration and Saudi Arabia. He called it “an important step towards building a more integrated and stable Middle East region”.
Biden has been criticized by some for his visit to Saudi Arabia, which he has sworn as a candidate to make a “pariah” state because of its human rights abuses. But diplomatic pragmatists say Biden must continue to engage with Saudi Arabia to have influence in the region.
What they say
“Israel must remain an independent and democratic Jewish state,” Biden said at a press conference Thursday. “The best way to achieve this remains a two-state solution for two people, both of whom have deep and ancient roots in this country, living side by side in peace and security.”
At that same press conference, Lapid also said that the two-state solution is “a guarantee for a strong and democratic State of Israel with a Jewish majority.” But he is serving as caretaker prime minister amid impending elections.
“Biden is not in a position to talk about borders, security arrangements or the administration of Jerusalem, but he can do what is necessary at this time, which is to remind everyone what is really the conflict and what any solution must take into account,” Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum wrote in a Times of Israel blog on Wednesday.
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Contribute: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden to announce initiatives for Palestinians on final day of trip to Israel