Palestinians say Biden ‘helping sustain apartheid’ before visit
US president to visit Israel and occupied Palestinian territories in his first regional tour since taking office.
Jerusalem – Interchanging United States and Israeli flags fly high on lampposts in Jerusalem in advance of US President Joe Biden’s visit.
Biden is expected to arrive in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories on Wednesday, in his first tour of the region since taking office in early 2021.
He will be joined by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during the four-day visit, which will end with a stop in Saudi Arabia.
For Palestinians, however, the US flag is not a welcome symbol.
They say Biden’s policies as president – like his predecessors – represent the US’s longstanding allegiance to Israel at the expense of Palestinian freedom and dignity.
“He’s [Biden] not coming here for Palestinians, he doesn’t care about Palestinians,” Diana Buttu, analyst and former legal adviser to Palestinian negotiating teams, told Al Jazeera.
“He has done nothing to stop Israeli settlements, while home demolitions have gone up since he’s been office, and he hasn’t stopped the killings [of Palestinians] that are happening on an almost-daily basis,” she added.
“It has been a feature of US policy – pre-dating [former US President Donald] Trump and Biden – to do whatever it is that Israel wants,” said Buttu.
Biden will begin his visit from Israel, where he will meet Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Yair Lapid and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, among others.
On Friday, the 79-year-old president will visit occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem where he will hold talks with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, before flying to Saudi Arabia.
A June 14 statement by the White House said the president was coming to “reinforce the United States’ iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity”.
In the West Bank, the statement said, Biden would “consult with the Palestinian Authority and to reiterate his strong support for a two-state solution, with equal measures of security, freedom, and opportunity for the Palestinian people”.
Such statements, Palestinians say, are not representative of the real US agenda.
“I don’t think Biden’s visit is bringing anything new,” 34-year-old Jerusalem resident Omar Jamal told Al Jazeera.
“As a Palestinian, I would expect more from the US government in terms of defending human rights of Palestinians since it claims it’s a democracy that caters for human rights,” he added.
Further angering Palestinians – particularly Palestinian Americans – is the apparent US decision to overlook the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces on May 11.
While Abu Akleh’s family sent a letter to Biden earlier this week demanding a meeting with the president during his visit, there has been no expression of intent by US officials of doing so, or any real steps to push for Israeli accountability.
A United Nations investigation has concluded that the bullet that killed the veteran journalist was fired by Israeli forces. The Biden administration, however, angered Palestinian rights and press freedom advocates when it said earlier this month that State Department investigators had found Israeli military gunfire was “likely responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death, but that forensic analysis showed no reason to believe that the shooting was intentional.
‘Helping sustain apartheid’
Biden last visited Israel as vice president in 2016, prior to the many US foreign policy changes enforced by Trump that drastically disadvantaged Palestinians.
Under Trump, the US government recognised the whole of Jerusalem – including the occupied eastern half – as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Trump also recognised Israeli sovereignty over the 1967-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, closed down the Palestinian representative office in Washington, DC and shut the US consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem. He also cut financial support to the PA and funding to the UN’s refugee agency (UNRWA), among other things.
Analyst Buttu said Biden was not much different from Trump. While he partially restored financial aid, he has done nothing to reverse the major changes that Trump implemented, she added.
“The difference is that Biden is doing the same by effectively turning a blind eye, rather than the Trump policy of embracing Israeli illegality,” she said.
“People have this false sense that the US is an honest broker or a dishonest broker,” continued Buttu, adding that such descriptions were unfit.
“The US is not only an enabler, it is Israel’s partner in all of this.”
Fadi Quran, a Ramallah-based political and social activist, agreed.
“President Biden is not pushing for any real change, he is helping sustain the apartheid status quo,” said Quran.
Pointing to Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia and his expression of efforts to push for normalisation between Israel and the Arab world in a Washington Post opinion piece, Quran told Al Jazeera he believed the US president was merely “buying time for authoritarian leaders and war criminals across the region”.
“Pushing for change would mean helping hold Israeli war criminals accountable at the International Criminal Court, ending weapons sales used to commit war crimes, and forcing Israel to stop its theft of Palestinian land.
“President Biden is doing none of the above.”