Biden will make his first visit as president to Israel and Saudi Arabia

JERUSALEM — When President Biden arrives in the Middle East this week, on his first visit as US head of state, he will find a region whe...

JERUSALEM — When President Biden arrives in the Middle East this week, on his first visit as US head of state, he will find a region where alliances, priorities and relations with the United States have changed dramatically since then. his last official tripsix years ago.

His visit opens in Israel and the occupied West Bank, once at the center of US policy in the Middle East, and is expected to focus on the fast-reinforcing links with Arab countries and an emerging Arab-Israeli military partnership to fight threats from Iran. He ends the trip in Saudi Arabiathe Persian Gulf says the West wants to pump more oil to address a growing global energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine.

When Mr Biden last visited Israel in 2016 as vice president, the country only had diplomatic relations with two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan. But now it is increasingly integrated into the diplomatic ecosystem of the Middle East after several significant agreements brokered by the Trump administration which normalized relations between Israel and three other Arab states: Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

In the West Bank, Mr. Biden will meet with Palestinian officials and could announce new economic support. But analysts and diplomats said they did not expect major developments in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

“American engagement, let alone presidential involvement, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer a priority,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “The United States has returned or moved to managing the alliance, which is why an Israel-Gulf coalition against Iran is far more important to the United States than resolving the conflict.”

Mr Biden and his Israeli hosts are expected to discuss strengthening the military coordination system between Israel, its new Arab allies and the US military. Unthinkable during Mr. Biden’s last official visit, the system allows participating armies to communicate in real time about aerial threats from Iran and its proxies, and has already been used to help bring down several drones, according to Israeli officials.

There have even been hints of the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the military coordination, which currently has no open relationship with Israel but shares its opposition to Iran.

“We are not going to announce normalization with Saudi Arabia on this trip,” said Thomas R. Nides, the US ambassador to Israel. a recent podcast hosted by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. But it will be the start of a process that “will show the importance of regional security”, he added.

Historically, Saudi officials have said they would avoid a formal relationship with Israel until a Palestinian state is established. But the leading Saudis have become increasingly critical Palestinian leaders, and two Saudi commentators have expressed support for normalization with Israel in recent days.

Israeli media also reported on clandestine negotiations to increase the number of Israeli planes allowed to fly over the Saudi mainland and to obtain Israel’s blessing to change the role of international peacekeepers on two small strategic islands near the southern coast. of Israel. that Egypt handed over to Saudi Arabia in 2017.

An Israeli minister, Esawi Frej, also said Thursday that he had asked Saudi Arabia to allow direct flights from Israel to facilitate pilgrimages to Mecca by members of Israel’s Muslim minority.

“There is a new closeness between Israel and the Gulf,” said Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington. “The question is, can the United States try to take all these different bricks and build something new with them?

Mr. Biden’s visit will also give the United States a chance to fill his differences with the Israeli government how to contain the Iranian nuclear program.

Since the departure a year ago of Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister who had a contentious relationship with the Democratic Party, ties between Israel and the United States have improved. Both parties speak of warm interactions and there have been no major public feuds.

This dynamic remains despite the the recent collapse of the Israeli government and the installation of an interim Prime Minister, Yair Lapid.

Nevertheless, privately, Israel has opposed US-backed efforts to persuade Iran to cut its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief – and Mr Biden’s arrival is partly an effort to reassure Israel that Washington is behind it.

“No one will hold light on Joe Biden’s commitment and love for the State of Israel,” Mr. Nides said on the podcast. “Israel’s security is of the utmost importance to the United States.”

Mr. Biden’s talks with the Palestinians, however, promise to be more tense.

During Mr. Biden’s last visit, the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, brokered by the last Democratic administration, had recently broken down. A resumption of talks is seen as highly unlikely amid waning hopes of an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in the near future and diminishing US interest in seeking one.

US officials, including Mr. Nides, stress that the Biden administration believes in a two-state solution to the conflict. But the entrenchment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, divisions within the Palestinian leadership and Israeli disinterest in peace negotiations make Palestinian statehood seem like an increasingly distant possibility, analysts said. .

The Biden administration says it has restored about $500 million in funding for Palestinians, including for the United Nations department that looks after Palestinian refugees. He also criticized actions, including settlement expansion, that make a two-state solution less viable.

But he also failed to undo several moves by the Trump administration that the Palestinians saw as undermining their quest.

The State Department hasn’t officially canceled a Trump administration decision to confer legitimacy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, considered illegal by most of the world. It was a reversal of decades of American policy.

After Israeli pressure, the United States did not reopen its consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem, which was closed under Mr. Trump. The Palestinian mission in Washington, also closed under Mr. Trump, remains closed.

Palestinian anger rose again this week, after the United States concluded that Shireen Abu Akleh, a prominent Palestinian American journalist shot in the West Bank in Maywas probably killed by accident and said he would not push Israel to conduct a criminal investigation of any Israeli soldier.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, accused Israel of intentionally killing Ms Abu Akleh, and a number of Palestinians, as well as the journalist’s family, viewed the US announcement as an attempt to deflect Israel at all responsible – an assertion Washington denied.

“Overall, from a Palestinian point of view, the administration has not done what it needs or needs to do to repair the damage that has been done,” said Ibrahim Dalalsha, a former liaison between the US government and Palestinian leaders and directors. of the Horizon Center, a research group in the West Bank.

Mr. Biden’s visit is unlikely to significantly change this dynamic.

Mr. Lapid, the Israeli Prime Minister, broadly supports the concept of a Palestinian state, unlike his predecessor, Naftali Bennett. But Mr. Lapid is only in his role on an interim basis, pending an election in the fall, and he has no mandate to change the current situation.

Even so, Palestinian officials said they hoped the US administration could at least persuade Israel to implement less publicized projects, such as a 4G mobile network in Palestinian-run areas in the West Bank.

“Perhaps now is not exactly the right time for the administration to push for a final status solution,” Dalalsha said.

But, he added, “this administration has failed to convince the Israelis to put in place a meaningful set of confidence-building measures.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden will make his first visit as president to Israel and Saudi Arabia
Biden will make his first visit as president to Israel and Saudi Arabia
Newsrust - US Top News
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