Middle East

Israel snubs Biden request to halt actions that could embarrass the US President

US President, Joe Biden, sought assurance from Israel that no action is taken in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem that could create tensions ahead of his controversial visit next month to the Apartheid State. Biden’s team made the request to the Israelis in what seems to be an attempt by the White House to avoid repeating the embarrassment Biden suffered over a decade ago when he visited the territory as Vice President under the administration of Barack Obama.

During the 2010 visit, Biden vowed unyielding American support for Israel’s security. The Israelis returned the favour by humiliating the then vice President with an announcement to build 1,600 new Jewish only houses, in illegal settlements, in occupied East Jerusalem. Biden condemned the move as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” A statement by the White House condemned “the substance and timing of the announcement.”

Barbara Leaf, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, and her deputy for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, are laying the groundwork for Biden’s visit scheduled for 13-15 July. Leaf asked Israel to halt actions like home demolitions, evictions of Palestinians and decisions on settlement building, as well as decrease Israeli military operations in the West Bank until after Biden’s visit, officials told Axios.

The Israelis have said they are not able to give such assurances, but they will, nevertheless, try their best. According to Axios, senior members of the Israeli team, including Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, told Leaf they will do their best, but explained the domestic political complexities of halting such actions, in addition to what they called the operational needs of the Israeli military in order to stop attacks.

Read: Israel rejects US proposal for meeting with PA

With the trip coming fresh after the Israeli killing of Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, the Americans are fearful of a global outrage coinciding with President Biden’s visit to the Apartheid State. “The Biden administration doesn’t want us to create any crisis in the West Bank … They want quiet and calm” for Biden’s visit, a senior Israeli official is reported saying.

Not only is the US team desperate to avoid embarrassment for President Biden, they are also putting together a plan to show that the US President is capable of making progress.  Israeli, Palestinian and US officials said Leaf, Amr and US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, tried to put together a package of tangible deliverables for the Palestinians to coincide with the Biden visit.

But they did not make significant progress on the package because there are not enough meaningful things the US can give and Israel is not willing to take any steps with political significance that will be enough for the Palestinians, the officials said, according to Axios.

“We need a political horizon. We want to hear President Biden say what his detailed position regarding the two state solution is,” PLO official and adviser to the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, Hussein Al-Sheikhal-Sheikh, is reported saying. “The US wants the visit to take place in a good atmosphere – different than the one now,” Al-Sheikhal-Sheikh added implying that Washington is more concerned about its image than it is about Israel’s daily human rights violations.

In a blow to the Biden team’s effort to portray the US President as the broker of peace, the PA and Israel rejected their proposal to meet. Palestinian officials stressed that such a meeting should include an Israeli commitment to the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, otherwise, the meeting would be useless.

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