Palestinians Aren’t Expecting Much From President Biden’s Visit
The US president is expected to reaffirm his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but no major announcements will be forthcoming
US President Joe Biden will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on his second stop during his visit to the Middle East. It is expected that President Biden will reaffirm his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has hoped that President Biden will fulfill his campaign pledge to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem. But three PA officials told The Media Line that Abbas was told on multiple occasions during meetings with US diplomats, and during a recent phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken not to expect any major announcements during the meeting.
Former PA Minister of Higher Education Dr. Sabri Saidam, who is deputy secretary-general of the Fatah party headed by Abbas, told The Media Line that President Biden should look at the Palestinians and Israelis evenly.
“Talking about the security of Israel, talking about the ever-lasting friendship with the Israeli people, there has to be an ever-lasting friendship with the Palestinian people. Telling Israel that it has to end its occupation is not a bad thing, you don’t make many Israelis upset if you say let’s come to coexistence and action that,” Saidam said.
A politically weakened Abbas wants the US president to help kick-start the peace process with Israel and announce the reopening of the US Consulate in Jerusalem among other things, but that is highly unlikely.
“There’s an expectation on the part of the Palestinian people to see the deeds being actioned that the American administration meets its own agenda of pressing for a lasting peace, two-state solution, for self-determination for the Palestinians, and the end of conflict,” says Saidam.
Nabil Amr, former PA information minister, told The Media Line that the visit “is nothing more than a symbolic event, which means at least that the Palestinian issue is still on the mind of President Biden.”
“We are fully aware that the Americans postponed the attention to the Palestinian-Israeli issue until further notice, and therefore there will be no substantive talk about the issue of negotiations,” said Amr, a former ambassador to the USSR and Egypt.
Last week, a Palestinian source told The Media Line that an official letter was sent to Washington by the PA on Sunday that included several Palestinian demands, among them the reopening of the US Consulate in Jerusalem, reopening of the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, removing the PLO from the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations, and refinancing the Palestinian Authority.
US officials say they have not abandoned plans to reopen the consulate; however, they claim that this action requires Israeli cooperation and that the PA needs to do more for Washington to remove the PLO from the list of groups designated as terroristic.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials say the US administration and Israel want to maintain the status quo, which is now focused only on managing the conflict and not resolving it.
Ramallah-based Palestinian-American business consultant Sam Bahour is pessimistic about the outcome of the visit.
“I think the expectation is zero, to be honest with you. I think the American stand is a well-known, long-standing position to blindly support Israel in electoral transition or not,” he said.
President Biden will head to Jedda, Saudi Arabia after he concludes his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
He will be meeting King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, with Iran and normalization with Israel on the agenda.
“There may be a negative result of the trip in terms of him propping up this apartheid Israeli state, giving them legitimacy where they are not really due legitimacy. In addition to that, his following trip to Saudi Arabia will probably try to legitimize Israeli involvement in the Abraham Accords by trying to bring Saudi Arabia into the realm, all of that at the expense of the Palestinian issue,” Bahour said.
The Palestinian street feels no differently about President Biden’s visit than do the Palestinian officials. The general feeling among residents of the West Bank and Gaza is that the visit will not yield any substantial benefits for them.
Back in 2020, Palestinians were hopeful when Joe Biden won the election, but more than 18 months later they are not expecting much from this visit.
Osama Alqeshi, a coffee shop owner in Ramallah, told The Media Line that Palestinians had been “let down” many times by successive US administrations.
“As a Palestinian, this visit does not concern me because we have become accustomed to the Americans for the past 70 years. They always promised the Palestinians achievements and aid, but they failed. It is known that America puts Israel’s interest before any other interest,” he said.
Palestinian sources in Ramallah told The Media Line that in May Abbas was seriously considering the withdrawal of Palestinian recognition of Israel. The source, who is a top PA official and a close advisor to the president, described him as “distraught” and in “despair” and ready to sever ties with Israel over the lack of a political horizon.
According to one Abbas advisor, the president is frustrated over his “marginalization” and not having any accomplishment to show for his tenure. “He desperately wants to leave behind a legacy for people to speak about after his death,” said the official.
The Palestinian political battlefield is in disarray with the 87-year-old Abbas’ health on the decline, and with Israel set to hold its fifth election in less than four years this fall. It makes chances for a political breakthrough between Israel and the Palestinians during this week’s visit near zero.
Bahour echoes the feelings that many Palestinians have of the PA.
“They can do a lot, they won’t. they’re playing the game to stay in power, they are a very weak authority right now with very little legitimacy. Actually, their legitimacy comes from these kinds of trips from Biden and other world leaders. Without that global legitimacy, they stand on very weak ground because they don’t have local legitimacy,” he said.
Sources in the White House say the president will push for more economic steps to improve the daily lives of Palestinians. According to the Axios news site, President Biden had asked wealthy Gulf states to contribute financially to Palestinian hospitals in east Jerusalem.
The news site also reported that President Biden will announce during his visit $100 million in aid to Palestinian hospitals in east Jerusalem.
Sources in Washington told The Media Line that the US administration had asked Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid to provide Palestinians with economic steps to help strengthen President Abbas’ rule.
“It’s clear that Abu Mazen had said many times that if the American administration foresees the future in terms of economic measures or any sort of anesthetic that are going to yield absolutely nothing, we don’t want them,” said Saidam, referring to President Abbas by his nom de guerre.
Washington has criticized Israeli settlements, and Ramallah has called for stronger support. But Palestinians insist that it is not enough. They warn that unless the administration listens to their needs and President Biden’s visit fails to meet their demands there will be major repercussions.