The President of the United States, Joe Biden, announced this Friday a modest economic aid package for the Palestinian people in the framework of his brief visit to East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, which has been marked by the absence of any diplomatic initiative on the future of Palestine.
The president’s visit and announcement mark a change in form with respect to the harsh policy followed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, but they represent only a timid shift in substance and content.
They have also served to conclude the first half of his tour of the Middle East and head to Saudi Arabia, which is the part that has generated the most expectations and criticism.
During his visit to Bethlehem, Biden met with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who in his subsequent appearance before the media asked the American leader for a greater commitment to the cause of the independence of his people and to end with the occupation and the “regime of apartheid” of Israel, in the words of the Palestinian leader.
Biden, for his part, has limited himself to reiterating his defense, empty of content, of the two-state solution, although he has maintained that this was not the right time to restart negotiations. “There has to be a political horizon that the Palestinian people can actually see or at least feel. We cannot allow despair to steal our future,” Biden declared, before adding that “the ground to resume negotiations is not ready at this time.”
The US president has also pointed out that the growing regional integration of Israel, for which he has indeed promised efforts by his administration, could contribute to revitalizing a political process with the Palestinians, but he has not detailed what way.
Biden’s arrival in Palestine has also been marked by the death of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead in May by Israeli security forces while covering an incursion into the busy West Bank city of Jenin.
Despite the fact that multiple independent investigations have concluded that the reporter, who was of American and Palestinian nationality, was killed by Israeli fire, Israel and the United States have avoided firmly confirming or denying it.
In his appearance, Abbas has asked Washington to help demand responsibility for the death of the reporter, whom he has considered “a martyr”, while Biden – who has not been able to pronounce the journalist’s name correctly – has limited himself to consider his “death” a “huge loss” and to promise to continue assisting in the investigation, although he has not specified how.
While the Palestinian side did not harbor any great hopes for Biden’s visit, Abbas has urged him to at least follow through on some of his election promises such as reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem, removing the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Palestine (PLO) from its terrorist list, and allow the reopening of its diplomatic headquarters in Washington.
The US president, however, has considered that reactivating some economic aid to the Palestinian people, such as the one he announced this Friday, already represents going back on Trump’s policies. In an apparent attempt to downplay his presence in East Jerusalem as well, Biden has reiterated to Abbas that the United States continues to consider Jerusalem Israel’s capital and that “the specific limits of sovereignty” of the city must be resolved through negotiations, according to a White House statement.
One of the most anticipated aid announced by Biden during the day has been 100 million dollars (99.6 million euros), still pending approval by the United States Congress, destined for a network of hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide services specializing in patients from the West Bank and Gaza.
This is indirect aid to the fragile Palestinian government, which does not manage these hospitals but pays the costs of treating Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and has had problems doing so for months, which has added pressure to some centers that play a key role in your healthcare system.
Other aid announced by the US includes 200 million dollars for the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA, for its acronym in English).
For the Palestinian authority, that fleeting visit has also been overshadowed by the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s decision to open its airspace to planes coming from and going to Israel, which until now had to go around the country.
The gesture has been interpreted as another step towards a greater integration of Israel in the region, and suggests Riyadh’s willingness to participate in this process. Biden, for his part, has become the first president of the United States to fly directly from Israel to the Saudi city of Jeddah, where the second part of his regional tour will start and the one that concentrates the most expectation, after the Democratic president said during the 2020 presidential campaign that he would make Saudi Arabia an international pariah, for Riyadh’s involvement in the 2018 assassination of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Istanbul consulate.
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