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Biden leaves Palestinians – and Israelis – without hope for peace

The president did nothing to counter the perception of the US as Israel’s partner in its occupation of Palestinian lands
US President Joe Biden (L) is received by Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas in Bethlehem in the West Bank on July 15, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) is received by Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas in Bethlehem in the West Bank on July 15, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

The most touching moment of President Joe Biden’s visit to Palestine was captured on a 90-second videotape caught by a private camera. Surrounded by Franciscan priests, known as “The Protectors of the Holy Places,” Palestinian students from a Bethlehem Christian school sang for President Biden a short version of the song, “Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. I hope someday you will join us, and the world will be as one.”

This was the most powerful message conveyed by Palestinians to President Biden who, while the youngsters were singing, was full of smiles and was even seen singing along with those innocent pupils so full of hope for peace. Alas, President Biden’s message to Palestinians was, “the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations” with Israel.

The president did not expound on why the time for peace talks was not now, but the Biden administration evidently has other priorities, including Russia’s war with Ukraine and the effect on oil prices and worldwide food supplies; the expansion of Chinese political and economic influence throughout the world; Israel’s integration with the Arab world; and Iran’s threat to Arab oil-producing countries and Israel; and Iran’s self-declared ability to produce a nuclear bomb.

Despite the pressing need to restart peace now between Israel and the Palestinians, the Biden administration appears to have concluded that with minimal incidents of violence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, Israel can live with the status quo for a very long time – allowing it to keep expanding Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem and consolidating control over the Palestinian political structure, the Palestinian Authority.

True, compared to the wacky presidency of Donald J. Trump, the Biden administration is considerably more friendly to the Palestinians. Palestinians appreciated the much-needed US donations to the network of Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem and the additional funding for UNRWA. But what Palestinians need is not just money and lofty statements about a two-state solution. They need an actual state living side by side in peace with Israel, a state based on the pre-1967 borders. Palestinians need a state that is sovereign, contiguous, and that is not checkered with Israeli settlements, and subjugated by an eternal Israeli occupation.

Palestinians were hopeful Biden’s visit would lead to an announcement of the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. They hoped to hear announcements about the imminent reopening of the US consulate in East Jerusalem and the reopening of the PLO office in Washington. Palestinians wanted a commitment to remove the PLO from the US list of terrorist organizations, and they sought an ironclad US commitment to finding and punishing the killers of American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

What they got instead were vague pronouncements with no vision or hope. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was straightforward in stating, “we are not terrorists.” Abbas also affirmed for the umpteenth time that Palestinians extend their hands for peace with the Israelis.

Israel-supporters often quote Israeli diplomat and politician Abba Eban’s line that “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Today, Israel has passed up every opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords. These accords allowed Israel to successfully dump Palestinian daily woes on the newly created Palestinian Authority and off its shoulders as an occupying power.

Palestinians are deeply disappointed by President Biden’s two-hour stopover in Bethlehem compared to the two full days he accorded Israel. After Biden’s visit to the West Bank, many Palestinians are left with the feeling that the United States is Israel’s partner in its occupation of Palestinian lands, whether by funding the Israeli war machine or by supporting Israel politically on the world stage.

But the Palestinians are not alone in bearing the price for Israel’s short-sightedness and willful blindness to the Palestinians’ just demands for a state of their own. Come what may, statehood will remain the Palestinian goal now and for the indefinite future. Unless and until Israel signs a peace agreement with the Palestinians, it will be doomed to live on the edge in perpetual fear of what the Palestinians might do next. Is that the life Israelis want for themselves? Is that the future they want for their children?

As for President Biden, he had an opportunity to right the wrongs of previous US administrations, especially the Trump presidency. He could have used the leverage he has with Israel as an avowed Zionist to nudge it toward sitting down with the Palestinians in renewed and serious peace talks leading to a final peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. He could have made history.

About the Author
Bishara A Bahbah is vice president of the U.S.-Palestine Council (USPC), the only active US-registered Palestinian-American lobby. Bahbah is former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian newspaper, Al-Fajr. He served as the associate director of Harvard University’s Middle East Institute and was a member of the Palestinian delegation on arms control and regional security.
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