CMEP Says Biden’s Visit to Israel and Palestine a “Missed Opportunity”
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) laments that the visit of President Joe Biden to Israel and Palestine did little to advance the cause of peace. While affirming the U.S.-Israel relationship and the billions of dollars of U.S. assistance that go with it, the President said almost nothing about the abuses committed by Israel with that assistance against Palestinians. One exception, referring to the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and calling for a “full and transparent accounting of her death,” was welcome and should be followed with decisive action.
Expressions of sympathy for the plight of Palestinians rang hollow, given that U.S. assistance continues to fund their repression and dispossession. With thousands of settlement units already advanced this year, and thousands more scheduled to be begun soon, the de facto annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank is accelerating. The silence of the U.S. President on this issue, as on the imminent expulsion of over 1,000 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, was a clear signal to Israel that annexation of land and evictions of Palestinians can continue with impunity.
Over 4,000 settlement units were approved for advancement in May, and over 3,000 more, in the controversial E-1 area in the middle of the West Bank may be approved in September. While the President rhetorically embraced a two-state solution to the conflict during his trip, the continuous expansions of settlements will render any Palestinian state non-viable and a two-state solution unworkable.
The joint declaration adopted by President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid condemned “terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.” Still, during his visit, President Biden made no public mention of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians, the violence of Israeli soldiers against protesters, and other Palestinians, including children, or the violence of home demolitions and forced expulsions, all of which diminish any chance for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Despite his assertion – in reference to Saudi Arabia – that he has “never been quiet about human rights,” during his time in Israel and Palestine, President Biden said little publicly on the subject.
The President’s pledge to increase funding for East Jerusalem hospitals and provide other forms of economic assistance for Palestinians was welcome. Yet, his silence on actions fueling the conflict was profoundly disappointing. Bold statements supporting human rights and humanitarian needs could have sent a powerful message to all sides that the U.S. is serious about pursuing a fair and just resolution to the conflict. President Biden’s trip was a missed opportunity for the U.S. to exercise that kind of leadership. Churches for Middle East Peace urges the Biden administration to follow up on this visit with more explicit, more direct public statements, to be backed by tangible actions if necessary. The President must act immediately to ensure that those complicit in the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh are identified and held fully accountable. Further, he must demand that there be no expansions of settlements and no forcible expulsions of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta or anywhere else in the occupied Palestinian territories. And the Administration must speak out forcefully and regularly in opposition to the litany of human rights abuses against Palestinians that occur routinely, often backed by funding through U.S. defense assistance.