United States President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East began in Israel. Biden then squeezed in a short three-hour stop off with Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas, before heading to Saudi Arabia.
The New York Times reported from Jerusalem that Biden was welcomed by Israeli leaders with “a rapturous embrace, as if to prove that their love affair with the former president [Donald Trump] would not stand in the way of a close relationship with the new president” and that Biden “seemed just as determined to prove he took a back seat to no one in supporting Israel”.
At the red-carpet airport ceremony, Israeli President Issac Herzog called Biden “our brother Joseph”, declaring “you are truly amongst family”. Interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, called Biden “a great Zionist and one of the best friends Israel has ever known”.
Trump, an anti-semite, was a stalwart supporter of Israel as president: He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights — captured from Syria in the 1967 war against the Arab countries — and cut off US aid to the PA.
When elected, Biden kept Trump’s policies, except that on this trip he restored aid to the PA.
Biden wants to restore traditional Democratic support for Israel and its policies. In his public appearances, he never mentioned Israel’s control over 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians have no say over Israeli policies there — making Israel, whose borders go from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River and from Egypt to Syria — a single apartheid state. On his trip, he attacked “some Democrats” who characterise Israel in this way.
The only “difference” between the Israeli representatives and Biden was over Iran. The Israelis want a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Biden said he was still for “diplomacy” and for a new deal over Iran’s nuclear program, ditched by Trump.
However, Washington is adamant it doesn’t want to return to the old deal with Iran. The US wants to include Iran dismantling its missile fleet in any new deal — its only defense against an Israeli attack — and ending its support of pro-Iranian groups in the region, which Iran won’t accept, as Biden well knows.
When Biden was asked if he would he use force against Iran if diplomacy fails, he answered “yes”. So, a “difference” without one.
Everything Biden said while in Israel made clear his 100% support for Israel and all its policies, including the daily murders of Palestinians in the West Bank and the periodic genocidal wars against Gaza.
There is a rift in the Democrats over the party establishment’s full support for Israel.
Another NYT article written during Biden’s trip detailed how Democratic establishment candidates are being challenged in many pre-selections by more progressive Democrats critical of Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza — a view growing among younger voters.
This has caused alarm in the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Israeli government lobby group in the US. For the first time, AIPAC is directly intervening in the elections to support Democratic candidates who back Israel 100% and attack others who don’t.
AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel have, so far, spent US$21 million and $7 million, respectively, in election advertising.
This rift is also expressed among American Jews. Israel no longer counts them among its major backers in the US, relying instead on anti-semitic and racist white Christian evangelicals for support — a major bloc in Trump’s base.
While in the West Bank, Biden said he supports a “two state solution”, despite knowing Israel has made this impossible.
Biden’s brief stopover to meet with Abbas and reestablish aid to the PA, is to counter the widespread hatred of Abbas in the West Bank. The last time the PA national leadership stood for election in the West Bank was in 2006. Abbas steadfastly refuses to allow new elections, because he knows he will lose.
Abbas — now 87 years of age — recently elevated Hussein al-Sheikh as his chosen successor. Al-Sheikh liaised with Israel on behalf of the PA, to police the West Bank, and is the “spokesman for the occupation” in the minds of ordinary Palestinians. Polls show, according to the NYT, that if al-Sheikh ran as the successor to Abbas in an election, he would only get three percent of the vote.
Shireen Abu Aqleh
At Biden’s press conference with Abbas, the latter was compelled by Palestinian outrage at the murder of renowned Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, to have a picture of her on an empty seat.
Abu Aqleh was deliberately shot by Israeli forces in May while she covered an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin for Al Jazeera. She was wearing a bulletproof vest marked “press” at the time, so the shooting was targetted.
Independent investigations, including by the NYT and the United Nations, determined Abu Aqleh was deliberately murdered by Israeli forces.
But a US investigation only concluded that her death was “likely” caused by Israeli fire, but ballistic tests were inconclusive, and it wasn’t deliberate.
Abu Aqleh’s family wrote to Biden before his trip, protesting Washington’s “finding” and asking to meet with him, saying the investigation was a “whitewash” of an “extra-judicial killing”.
The family accused the White House of adopting the Israeli government’s conclusions and talking points in “an apparent intent to undermine our efforts toward justice and accountability for Shireen’s death”.
Biden refused to meet with the family. The Secretary of State did, but what he said to them is not known.
Abu Aqleh’s niece Lina told the media: “If Shireen was killed in Ukraine, I’m 100 percent sure the reaction would have been completely different. There would have been action from day one. There would have been accountability. There would have been a transparent and independent investigation. And there would have been justice.”
US Congress representative Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, said: “This much is clear — the State Department has comprehensively failed to carry out its mission as it relates to the murder of an American citizen. This failure sends a clear message to the world: some American lives are worth more than others, and some ‘allies’ have license to kill with impunity.”
While in Israel, Biden didn’t bring up Abu Aqleh’s murder with Israeli authorities. He only mentioned her when embarrassed by her picture at the press conference with Abbas.
'Hat in hand'
From Israel, Biden travelled to Saudi Arabia and met with de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). MBS is known as “Mr Bone Saw” for his ordering of the murder and dismemberment of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.
Following the murder, Biden denounced MBS and broke off relations with Saudi Arabia. But on this visit, he made no mention of Khashoggi, and said he would “reset” relations with the kingdom.
Biden came, hat in hand, to beg MBS to raise oil production to help him curb petrol price inflation at home and join hands with the US against Iran. Saudi Arabia is already a de facto partner in the military alliance between the US, Israel, United Arab Emirates, other kingdoms and dictators against Iran.
As for oil production, MBS explained that the next meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would decide prices — in other words, no promises.
The trip was a complete failure for Washington. MBS got what he wanted, a fist-bump from Biden, recognition and promise to reset US-Saudi relations, all of which was broadcast on Saudi TV as a triumph.
Biden’s trip ended with a whimper.