RAMALLAH: US President Joe Biden vowed on Friday not to give up efforts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but offered no new proposals to restart stalled political dialogue.
After a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, Biden admitted that the creation of an independent Palestinian state was a distant prospect with no likelihood of new talks with Israel.
“Even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations, the US and my administration will not give up on trying to bring … both sides closer together,” the president said.
“There must be two states for two peoples living side by side in safety and peace. Every people must live in dignity, but the goal of the two-state solution is out of reach because there are restrictions on movement and other restrictions imposed on the Palestinians.”
Biden acknowledged that after years of failed attempts to resolve the conflict, Palestinians living under onerous restrictions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza were suffering. “You can feel … the grief and frustration,” he said.“The Palestinian people feel sad, and we feel what they feel, but we will not give up on continuing our efforts for peace.
“The urgent needs of the Palestinians now are the best way to improve the situation. We are life partners to improve the lives of the Palestinians.”
Abbas urged Biden to reopen the US Consulate in East Jerusalem, and to remove the PLO from its terrorist list and reinstate its office in Washington. “The key to peace and security in our region begins with recognizing the state of Palestine and enabling the Palestinian people to obtain their legitimate rights under legitimate international resolutions,” he said.
“The permanent status issues must be resolved, including the refugee issue, and the way forward begins with the end of the Israeli occupation of the land of the state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the 1967 borders. If Israel wants to be a normal state, it cannot continue to act as a state above the law, and this calls for Israel to end its occupation.”
Abbas also asked for US support to bring to justice the killers of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American citizen shot dead by Israeli soldiers during a raid on the West Bank city of Jenin. Biden said the US would continue to seek accountability for her death.
Before departing for Saudi Arabia, Biden visited a hospital in East Jerusalem and pledged a multiyear $100 million package of financial and technical help. There are also plans to upgrade telecoms networks in the West Bank and Gaza to 4G standards by the end of 2023, and other measures to ease travel between the West Bank and Jordan.
There will be a separate $200 million funding package provided through the UN relief agency UNRWA to help Palestinian refugees.
The atmosphere that greeted Biden in the occupied West Bank was very different from the warm reception he received in Israel, where he was greeted as an old friend and awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor.
As he was driven to the presidential palace in Bethlehem, signs saying “Mr President, this is apartheid” were displayed along the route. In Bethlehem, a large banner reading “Justice for Shireen” was spread out, and a seat symbolically left empty for the murdered journalist by former colleagues covering the meeting with Abbas.
Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti told Arab News that the Biden-Abbas meeting had brought nothing for the Palestinian people, but showed the US bias toward Israel. “Why does Biden dedicate three days of his visit to Israel and give only one hour to the Palestinians?” he said.
“Biden confirmed that he supports the two-state solution in the long-term, not the immediate perspective. When he does not pressure Israel to stop settlements? This perpetuates the Israeli apartheid regime in the Palestinian territories.
“After this disappointing meeting, we as Palestinians must unite our forces because there is no hope waiting for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations sponsored by the US.”