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September 30, 2022
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Joe Biden on way to Middle East on first trip as US president

The US leader will visit Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia during July 13-16.

Joe Biden is on his way to the Middle East on his first visit to the region as president of the United States, with Israel as his first stop.

Biden is due to make brief remarks on Wednesday at an arrival ceremony, before receiving a briefing from Israeli defence officials on the US-supported Iron Dome system and a new laser-enabled system called Iron Beam.

He will also pay his respects at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims of World War II.

The US leader will spend two days in Jerusalem on talks with Israeli leaders, including interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before meeting Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in the occupied West Bank.

He will then take an unprecedented direct flight from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – as the kingdom does not recognise Israel’s existence – for talks with Saudi officials and to attend a summit of Gulf allies.

Israel, which is mired in political gridlock before a November 1 election, says it is raising 1,000 flags across Jerusalem to welcome the US leader, who has not reversed former President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognise the city as the capital of Israel.

alestinians see occupied East Jerusalem as their capital and, before the visit, have accused Biden of failing to make good on his pledge to restore the US as an honest broker in the conflict.

“We only hear empty words and no results,” said Jibril Rajoub, a leader of Abbas’s Fatah movement.

Biden will meet Abbas in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on Friday, but there is no expectation of bold announcements towards a fresh peace process, meaning the visit may merely deepen Palestinian frustration.

“The PA is continuing to bet on the Americans and the delusion that Biden’s visit will present something to the Palestinians,” Palestinian political and civil society leader Khalida Jarrar told Getopedia.

“This ensures that there is a large rift between the Palestinian people and their aspirations, and the actions of their leadership.”

The talks will mark the highest level of face-to-face contact between US and Palestinian officials since Trump adopted a number of policies in favour of Israel after taking office in 2017.

US-Palestinian ties have also been strained recently by the killing in May of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American. The veteran reporter was shot by Israeli forces while reporting on Israeli raids in Jenin.

The United Nations has concluded Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli fire, something a Washington review found was likely but said there was no evidence the killing was intentional.

Abu Akleh’s family has voiced “outrage” over the Biden administration’s “abject response” to her killing and accused the US of providing impunity for Israel. They have asked to meet Biden during his trip but the White House has not commented on the request.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had spoken with the family of Abu Akleh. “He has invited the family to the United States to be able to sit down and engage with them directly,” Sullivan said.

He added the White House would like to see a US consulate for the Palestinians open in occupied East Jerusalem. “Obviously that requires engagement with the Israeli government. It requires engagement with the Palestinian leadership as well. And we will continue that engagement on this trip,” he said.

Meanwhile, four US Senators have sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, demanding answers about the review of the killing of Abu Akleh.

Democratic Senators Chris Van Hollen, Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin said the review did not live up to Blinken’s call for an independent and credible investigation.

Reporting from West Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said the Palestinian issue was “a footnote” to Biden’s trip, which appeared to be “more about the bigger geopolitics than the Palestinians”.

“He’s not coming with anything concrete when it comes to reviving long-stalled peace talks,” Dekker said.

“What he’s going to do is carry out a historic visit to a Palestinian hospital in occupied East Jerusalem. This is the first time that a US president is going to venture away from the Old City, going further into East Jerusalem.

“He’s going to be announcing about $100m in aid and is going to ask Gulf countries to match this for hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem, but Palestinians will tell you this is really just paying lip service,” she added.

“Palestinians have lost trust in the Americans, not just since the Trump administration but recently also because of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.”

 

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