In response to allegations that Israel kills Palestinians, a State Department spokesperson said the Biden admin was increasing support to the Palestinian Authority.
By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News
U.S. Department of State Ned Price failed to defend Israel from a spurious attack by a journalist Wednesday, in an exchange reminiscent of one in which Vice President Kamala Harris failed to do the same, for which she drew much criticism.
The incident took place during a press conference, in which Price was asked how the Biden administration would “emphasize your commitment to the two-state solution” to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennett has indicated that a two state solution is not viable while the Palestinian leadership supports terrorism.
Price responded, “Look, I am not going to offer a direct response to the prime minister, but our position on the two-state solution is well known; it is as well known as it is clear. We believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, democratic Palestinian state.”
He added: “You’ve heard us say this before, but we believe that Israelis and Palestinians equally – deserve equal measures of safety, of security, of prosperity, of democracy, and of dignity. That’s really at the core of our approach.”
However, the questioner then went on to accuse Israel of callously persecuting Palestinians, including routinely killing children and fishermen.
“Yes, but while that’s great – I mean, that – but in many ways it sounds like a euphemism for inaction,” they said. “Because as we speak, as we speak, the daily assault on the Palestinians – not only uprooting trees, killing children, demolishing homes, poisoning water – I mean, you can go on – killing fishermen, restricting all – this goes on on a daily basis. This goes on on a daily basis. What actions are you willing to take so – or to impress upon the Israelis so they stop doing this thing, or minimize doing this thing, or just sort of pull back?”
The questioner then went on to accuse Israel of leaning on America to designate legitimate NGOs as terrorist organizations, a reference to the six NGOs designated as terror organizations by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, due to their links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
“Whether on NGOs that are defiant and designated as terrorist organizations and so on, whether it’s the NSO that Israel is probably pressing upon you to sort of not – to take it off your blacklist and so on while they are spying on Palestinians every day of their lives,” the questioner said. “So I mean, what action will you ever take to show the Israelis that you are really serious in these statements that you say time and time again?”
The PFLP is recognized as a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU, the United States, and other countries, due to numerous cases of involvement with terrorist activities including airplane hijackings in the 1970s, attacks on Israelis during the Second Intifada, and the murder of five Israeli worshippers at a synagogue in Jerusalem in 2014. The organization also maintains links to Hezbollah, another proscribed organization, and is a principle partner in the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces (PNIF), the umbrella organization for Palestinian terror groups.
Rather than push back against this portrait of Israel – a U.S. ally – as an oppressive state, Price instead used the question to highlight the support the Biden administration has given the Palestinian leadership, and to reaffirm its commitment to a two state solution.
“When it comes to the Palestinian people, we have said – from the earliest days of this administration, spoken of our re-engagement with the Palestinian Authority, and in this case the Palestinian people,” he said. “We’ve resumed assistance to the Palestinian people. We’ve provided over $400 million in economic, development, security, and humanitarian assistance. That includes $85 million in economic and development assistance, $40 million in security sector assistance, more than $20 million in food aid, in COVID-related humanitarian assistance, and $318 million to UNRWA.
“So we have worked in tangible ways to bring about an improvement of lives and livelihoods, and that’s something that we’ll continue to work on. Even as we’re in a period now where we have long been clear that negotiations towards a two-state solution aren’t on the table at the moment, our charge now and our focus is improving a standard of living as we keep that possibility of a negotiated two-state solution alive.”
The exchange comes just weeks after Vice President Kamala Harris was heavily criticized for applauding a student who accused Israel of “ethnic genocide”
At an event in Fairfax, Virginia, a student commented: “just a few days ago there were funds allocated to continue backing Israel, which hurts my heart because it’s ethnic genocide and displacement of people, the same that happened in America, and I’m sure you’re aware of this.”
Harris responded that she was “glad” the student had raised the issue, adding: And again, this is about the fact that your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth, should not be suppressed and it must be heard, right? And one of the things we’re fighting for in a democracy, right?”
Harris’s office was forced to engage in damage control, reaching out to Jewish groups and a number of pro-Israel Democrats to reassure them of the Vice President’s commitment to Israel’s security.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has used the Biden administration’s mixed messaging on Israel to push for Jerusalem to be split, a matter that has long been a sticking point in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Biden administration has indicated that it would like to reopen a Palestinian consulate in east Jerusalem, after it was rolled into the American Embassy by the Trump administration. Such a move would effectively recognize the Palestinians’ claim to make east Jerusalem their capital. It would require the consent of the Israeli government, which has repeatedly stated it will not be given.
On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh argued that the U.S. “does not need Israel’s permission” to open the consulate. He also rejected a suggestion by Yair Lapid that it could be opened in Ramallah instead.
“Ramallah is not Jerusalem, Ramallah is not the capital of Palestine, Shtayyeh told the foreign press at a conference in Ramallah. “For us the reopening of the consulate in east Jerusalem has a great political significance.”
“We want this consulate in Jerusalem to be the future U.S. embassy for the state of Palestine,” he said.
“I am sure that the United States does not need anyone’s permission, because east Jerusalem is an occupied territory. … We are confident that [the Biden administration] will fulfill its promise,” Shtayyeh added.