Jerusalem - President Joe Biden devoted the last hours of his Israeli visit to restoring the ties with Palestinians severed by his predecessor, visiting a Palestinian hospital Friday in East Jerusalem and crossing an Israeli military checkpoint to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
The president called for a full accounting of the May killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the West Bank, the first time he has publicly mentioned the incident during his visit.
Biden's two events produced no progress toward renewed talks in the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But the White House did announce a range of measures meant to improve the situation at a time “when Palestinians are hurting, you can just feel it,” Biden said after his meeting with Abbas.
“I know that the goal of the two state [solution] seems so far away, while indignities like restrictions on movement and travel or the daily worry of your children's safety are real and immediate,” the president said.
“So even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations, the United States and my administration will not give up on trying to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis closer together.”
The administration approved $316 million in new aid for Palestinians, including $100 million for a hospital network that serves patients from the West Bank and Gaza. Another $200 million will go to the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees, funding that was largely eliminated by the Trump administration. Biden, who has pledged to renew support for Palestinians, began restoring Washington's contribution soon after taking office.
The White House also announced $15 million in emergency aid to help the territories during grain shortages caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as an initiative to speed the rollout of 4G technology in the West Bank and Gaza. The administration said it was also pressing Israel to ease travel restrictions on Palestinians by streamlining the crossing between the West Bank and Jordan.
“It's an honor to see first hand the quality of care you provide to the Palestinian people,” Biden said after touring Augusta Victoria Hospital, the leading advanced-care facility available to residents of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, most of whom need Israeli permission to travel there.
“Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity,” the president said, announcing the new hospital funding. “And access to health care when you need it is essential to leading a life of dignity.”
Biden, who has declined to reverse President Donald Trump's shift of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, said that his solo trip to the hospital did not signal a shift in policy. He reiterated the official view that Jerusalem is Israel's capital during his meeting with Abbas, according to the White House. But he said the city's ultimate boundaries must be determined through future negotiations.
The Washington Post