In the final stages of his visit to Israel, US President Joe Biden promised an additional USD 100 million to support Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem on Friday, however, offered no new proposals to revive the stalled political dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
Expected to restate his backing for a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict when he meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Biden provides no expectations of any major political breakthrough.
Wrapping up the first chapter of his Middle Eastern trip before departing for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, President Biden visited a hospital in East Jerusalem and pledged a multi-year USD 100 million package of financial and technical help.
His prospective meeting with Palestinian President Abbas leaves little hope for a solution to the years-long bloody stalemate in Palestinian-Israeli relations. President Abbas found himself bitterly disappointed by what he sees as the US failure to live up to pledges on issues including the re-opening of a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem, closed by former President Donald Trump in 2019.
Recently US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made statements about the US’ alleged intentions to open the Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem. Later on, White House Spokesman John Kirby rushed to deny the information, saying that there was “no change in US policy regarding a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem,” adding that the national security adviser “was wrong when he told reporters that the United States wants to establish a consulate for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem.”
A senior US administration official commented on Israeli-Palestinian relations, saying that “[there] are practical realities on the ground that we are very mindful of so we have not come in with a top-down plan, but we have always said that if the parties are ready to talk, and we think they should, we will be there, right beside them.”
The Palestinian political scene was not a favourable ground for President Biden even before his visit as Palestinian leaders had accused Biden’s administration of bias in favour of Israel manifested in ambitions to integrate the state into a regional security arrangement with Arab countries above their concerns, including continued Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and self-determination.
The Biden administration has rejected Palestinian charges of inertia, pointing to a reversal of the funding cuts and diplomatic freeze imposed by Trump.
“There was really no connection whatsoever, no discussions with the Palestinians, funding had been entirely severed, there was really no prospect of any political discussions of any kind,” the official said, adding that the move to deepen Israel’s regional integration was not “an end run around that fundamental issue.”
Little hope for breakthrough but improvements possible
With a narrow chance of a political breakthrough, the talks are up for stalling on topics of new funding and technical assistance measures President Biden announces.
As well as the money for East Jerusalem hospitals, the President will announce measures to upgrade telecoms networks in the West Bank and Gaza to highspeed 4G standards by the end of 2023. Other measures to be tackled are the easing of travel between the West Bank and neighbouring Jordan.
These improvements are to be complemented with an additional separate USD 201 million funding package provided through the UN relief agency UNRWA to help Palestinian refugees.
Although the international community has long been in favour of a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state sitting alongside the existing state of Israel, it toughening up of stances on both sides of the barricade distanced such prospects.
Biden and Lapid, indeed, voiced support for the two-state model on Thursday but Israel’s nearing November elections are likely to push runners to tap into more populist narratives of continued Israeli settlement expansion on the West Bank – a swath of land Palestinians have been eyeing up for their future state.
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