At West Bank, Biden stands by two-state solution

President to announce $201 m for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, plus smaller amounts for other assorted program…reports Asian Lite News

With no clear path to getting peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians back on track, President Joe Biden offered American money Friday as a balm while visiting a local hospital.

“Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity,” he said while visiting the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, which serves Palestinians. “And access to health care, when you need it, is essential to living a life of dignity for all of us.”

Although $100 million in proposed health care assistance requires US congressional approval, Biden is also announcing $201 million for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, plus smaller amounts for other assorted programs.

Israel has also committed to upgrading wireless networks in the West Bank and Gaza, part of a broader effort to improve economic conditions.

After leaving the hospital, Biden was to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

His trip to the West Bank is being met with skepticism and bitterness among Palestinians who believe Biden has taken too few steps toward rejuvenating peace talks, especially after President Donald Trump sidelined them while heavily favoring Israel.

When Biden finished speaking at the hospital, a woman who identified herself as a pediatric nurse at another health care facility thanked him for the financial assistance but said “we need more justice, more dignity.”

The last serious round of negotiations aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state broke down more than a decade ago, leaving millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule.

Israel’s outgoing government has taken steps to improve economic conditions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But Yair Lapid, the caretaker prime minister, does not have a mandate to hold peace negotiations, and Nov. 1 elections could bring to power a right-wing government that is opposed to Palestinian statehood.

Meanwhile, the 86-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority administers parts of the occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security, is more representative of the status quo than Palestinian aspirations.

His Fatah party lost an election, and control of Gaza, to the Islamic militant group Hamas more than 15 years ago. He called off the first national elections since then last year — blaming Israel — when Fatah appeared to be heading for another crushing defeat. Polls over the past year have consistently found that nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want him to resign.

Biden acknowledged this week that while he supports a two-state solution, it won’t happen “in the near-term.” The US also appears to have accepted defeat in its more modest push to reopen a Jerusalem consulate serving the Palestinians that was closed when President Donald Trump recognized the contested city as Israel’s capital.

There’s been hardly any mention of the Palestinians over the past two days, as Biden has showered Israel with praise, holding it up as a democracy that shares American values. At a news conference with Biden, Lapid evoked the US civil rights movement to portray Israel as a bastion of freedom.

It all reeked of hypocrisy to Palestinians, who have endured 55 years of military occupation with no end in sight.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli soldiers as Palestinians tried to cross a checkpoint to reach the Jordan valley following a protest against the expansion of Jewish settlements, near the West Bank city of Tubas

“The idea of shared values actually makes me sick to my stomach,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and political analyst. “I don’t think Israeli values are anything that people should be striving toward.”

Both Biden and Lapid said they supported an eventual two-state solution in order to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish-majority state. But Biden is expected to announce little beyond financial assistance, including $201 million for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

Biden proposed $100 million, subject to US congressional approval, for hospitals in east Jerusalem that serve Palestinians. Another $15 million is for humanitarian assistance, plus $7.2 million for programs to promote cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.

His approach, often referred to as “economic peace,” has limitations.

“You can’t buy a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former US State Department official. “It doesn’t work, because that’s not what drives this conflict.”

That sentiment was on display in the West Bank on Thursday, where dozens of Palestinians gathered to protest Biden. More protests were expected Friday.

“Mr. Biden is trying to marginalize the Palestinian issue,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a veteran Palestinian activist. “If he does not allow Palestinians to have their rights, then he is helping Israel kill and end the very last possibility of peace.”

At this point, the Palestinian goal of an independent state in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza — territories Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war — appears more distant than ever.

Nablus (Palestine): A Palestinian protester throws stones at Israeli soldiers during a protest against the expanding of Jewish settlements in Kufr Qadoom village near the West Bank city of Nablus on December 5, 2014.(Xinhua/Ayman Nobani/IANS)

Israel is expanding settlements in annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which are now home to some 700,000 Jewish settlers. The Palestinian view the settlements — many of which resemble sprawling suburbs — as the main obstacle to peace, because they carve up the land on which a Palestinian state would be established. Most of the world considers them illegal.

Military rule in the West Bank has sown widespread despair, contributing to a recent wave of violence. A 15-year blockade of Gaza, which Israel says is needed to contain Hamas, has helped fuel four devastating wars. Jerusalem, home to famed holy sites and the emotional heart of the conflict, is as volatile as ever.

Israel has its own grievances — including Palestinian Authority payments to the families of prisoners and slain attackers, which Israel says incentivize violence. The PA defends the payments as a form of welfare for those it sees as victims of the conflict.

It’s unclear if eliminating the “martyrs’ fund” would advance the goal of statehood. Israel is dominated by nationalist and religious parties that are opposed to a Palestinian state and view the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.

Well-known human rights groups have concluded that Israel’s seemingly permanent control over millions of Palestinians amounts to apartheid. One of those groups, Israel’s own B’Tselem, hung banners in the West Bank ahead of Biden’s visit.

Biden will also likely see banners calling for justice for Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli military raid in the West Bank in May. Israel says she might have been struck by Palestinian gunfire, while investigations by The Associated Press and other media outlets support Palestinian witnesses who say she was shot by Israeli forces.

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