Joe Biden arrives in Middle East on first trip as US president

The US leader will visit Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia during July 13-16.

Joe Biden has landed in Tel Aviv in Israel on his first visit to the Middle East as president of the United States.

Biden is due to make brief remarks on Wednesday at an arrival ceremony, before receiving a briefing from Israeli defence officials on the US-supported Iron Dome system and a new laser-enabled system called Iron Beam.

He will also pay his respects at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims of World War II.

The US leader will spend two days in Jerusalem on talks with Israeli leaders, including interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before meeting Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in the occupied West Bank.

(Al Jazeera)

He will then take an unprecedented direct flight from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – as the kingdom does not recognise Israel’s existence – for talks with Saudi officials and to attend a summit of Gulf allies.

“It’s an honour to once again to stand with friends and visit the independent state of Israel,” said Biden in his opening remarks.

“You do not need to be a Jew to be a Zionist. Every chance to visit this great country, where the ancient roots of the Jewish people date back to biblical times, is a blessing.

“The connection between the Israeli and American people is bone deep. Generation after generation our connection grows. We invest in each other. We dream together. I am proud to say that US relations with Israel are deeper and stronger than they have ever been.

“With this visit, we are strengthening our connections even further. We have reaffirmed the unshakeable commitment of the United States to Israel’s security, including partnering with Israel on the most cutting-edge technology,” said Biden.

“We will continue to advance Israel’s integration in the region. Expand emerging forms and engagement.. to deepen our economic cooperation between the Middle East and Indo-Pacific,” he added.

Reporting from West Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker pointed out how there was virtually no mention of the Palestinians during Biden’s address.

“I don’t think he mentioned the word Palestinian or Palestinians. It was very much addressed to an Israeli and domestic audience. It was all about Israel, his long history with Israel and how connected he is with Israel.

“He did mention that the only solution was the two-state solution but did not mention the Palestinians by name.

“Usually the narrative in the past was that there would be no normalisation with Israel until there was a Palestinian state and sovereignty but it seems we have moved way beyond that these days,” she added.

Israel, which is mired in political gridlock before a November 1 election, says it is raising 1,000 flags across Jerusalem to welcome the US leader, who has not reversed former President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognise the city as the capital of Israel.

Palestinians see occupied East Jerusalem as their capital and, before the visit, have accused Biden of failing to make good on his pledge to restore the US as an honest broker in the conflict.

“We only hear empty words and no results,” said Jibril Rajoub, a leader of Abbas’s Fatah movement.

Biden will meet Abbas in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on Friday, but there is no expectation of bold announcements towards a fresh peace process, meaning the visit may merely deepen Palestinian frustration.

“The PA is continuing to bet on the Americans and the delusion that Biden’s visit will present something to the Palestinians,” Palestinian political and civil society leader Khalida Jarrar told Al Jazeera.

“This ensures that there is a large rift between the Palestinian people and their aspirations, and the actions of their leadership.”

The talks will mark the highest level of face-to-face contact between US and Palestinian officials since Trump adopted a number of policies in favour of Israel after taking office in 2017.

US-Palestinian ties have also been strained recently by the killing in May of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American. The veteran reporter was shot by Israeli forces while reporting on Israeli raids in Jenin.

The United Nations has concluded Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli fire, something a Washington review found was likely but said there was no evidence the killing was intentional.

Abu Akleh’s family has voiced “outrage” over the Biden administration’s “abject response” to her killing and accused the US of providing impunity for Israel. They have asked to meet Biden during his trip but the White House has not commented on the request.

The White House spokesperson John Kirby said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan misspoke on Wednesday when he told reporters that the United States wished for a Palestinian consulate in East Jerusalem.

Kirby said there was no change in US policy regarding the consulate.

The United States wants to reopen its consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, located in the west of the city, which was closed by former US President Donald Trump in 2019.

Meanwhile, four US Senators have sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, demanding answers about the review of the killing of Abu Akleh.

Democratic Senators Chris Van Hollen, Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin said the review did not live up to Blinken’s call for an independent and credible investigation.

Reporting from West Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said the Palestinian issue was “a footnote” to Biden’s trip, which appeared to be “more about the bigger geopolitics than the Palestinians”.

“He’s not coming with anything concrete when it comes to reviving long-stalled peace talks,” Dekker said.

“What he’s going to do is carry out a historic visit to a Palestinian hospital in occupied East Jerusalem. This is the first time that a US president is going to venture away from the Old City, going further into East Jerusalem.

“He’s going to be announcing about $100m in aid and is going to ask Gulf countries to match this for hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem, but Palestinians will tell you this is really just paying lip service,” she added.

“Palestinians have lost trust in the Americans, not just since the Trump administration but recently also because of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.”


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