West Bank and Saudi Arabia: Biden attacks the delicate side of his trip
After two days of openly warm exchanges with his Israeli allies, US President Joe Biden passed by the Palestinian side on Friday to announce a series of economic measures before flying to Saudi Arabia, the culmination of his first tour of the Middle East. East.
Just before moving to this Gulf monarchy, two new keys fell: Israel said it had “no objection” to the transfer of two strategic islands to Saudi Arabia and the latter then announced the opening of its space air to “all carriers”, including Israeli, a “historic” decision for Joe Biden.
These two initiatives could, according to analysts, pave the way for a possible rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, a country which notably normalized its relations in 2020 with two allied countries of the Saudi kingdom: the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“This is a first step,” said Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, “thanking” Saudi Arabia for this measure which, according to Transport Minister Merav Michaeli, will “help to strengthen relations between Israel and the other countries in the Middle East”.
The Saudi announcement came before the unprecedented Tel Aviv / Jeddah direct flight that Mr. Biden will have to make, the first of its kind between Israel and Saudi Arabia which does not officially recognize the Jewish state.
Before heading to Jeddah in the afternoon, Mr. Biden visited Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, the eastern sector of the Holy City occupied by Israel, where he announced $ 100 million in aid to the local hospital network.
– Interview with Abbas –
Then he went to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, where he was welcomed by President Mahmoud Abbas for an interview focused more on economic aid.
Joe Biden will announce a project to switch to 4G in 2023 the internet connection on wireless networks in the West Bank and Gaza, where 3G and 2G respectively reign, which complicates the digitalization of the economy.
“This visit does not interest me, it means nothing for Palestine. He cannot buy us. This is not a visit in favor of peace, but of Israel. And several people are angry here because he declared himself a Zionist,” said Tamer Moustafa, a 20-year-old Palestinian, in Bethlehem.
On the road to Bethlehem, under heavy police surveillance, giant posters of the Israeli anti-colonization NGO B’Tselem were pasted with the inscription “Mr. President, this is apartheid”, in reference, according to her , Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Other posters and graffiti pay tribute to Shireen Abu Akleh, an American-Palestinian journalist killed on May 11 while covering an Israeli army operation in the West Bank.
But beyond the economic aspects, and recalling his support for the “two-state” solution – an independent and viable Palestine alongside Israel – Joe Biden has been careful not to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, stalled since 2014.
– The ghost of Khashoggi –
A fervent Catholic, Mr. Biden must go to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, before completing his visit to the Holy Land to approach the most strategic and perhaps also the most complex side of his journey: Saudi Arabia.
However delicate it may be, the Palestinian stage of Mr. Biden’s journey is nothing compared to the minefield that will be Saudi Arabia, for this president who had promised to put human rights at the heart of his diplomacy.
Still a candidate, Joe Biden had promised to make the oil monarchy a “pariah” because of the assassination of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi, and once elected, had declassified a damning report on the responsibility of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
In Jeddah on Friday, Mr. Biden will meet King Salman and then join his team in talks with MBS, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and Saudi ministers.
Thursday in Jerusalem, he refused to say clearly whether he would directly discuss the case of the murdered journalist in Jeddah.
Joe Biden seeks both to remain faithful to his defense of human rights and to convince the oil kingdom to open the floodgates of its production. The challenge: to lower the price of a gallon of gasoline as the midterm elections in the United States approach.
On Saturday, Mr. Biden will take part in a summit of leaders of the Gulf Arab monarchies which will also be attended by other Arab leaders.
An opportunity also to push the normalization initiated by Israel with several Arab countries, in order to face Iran, which Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid did not fail to point out to him on Thursday.
“Mr. President (Biden), you are going to meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Iraq. I would like to say to all of them: our arms are open wide for peace! “.
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