“Even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations, the United States and my administration will not give up on bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis, both sides, closer together,” Biden said.
By AP and WIN staff
President Joe Biden on Friday restated his continued support for “two states for two peoples” but acknowledged that the “ground is not ripe” for reviving stalled talks aimed at achieving an elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
His comments came during a joint appearance in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, where he announced $201 million for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).
Palestinian Authority officials were furious at Biden’s remark that negotiations for a Palestinian state will not happen any time soon, calling it a “self-defeating” approach.
They believe the Biden administration is not fully committed to moving the peace process forward, one that would end with a two-state solution.
Biden said the Palestinians “deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous. Two states for two peoples, both of whom have deep and ancient roots in this land, living side by side in peace and security.”
Although such a goal “can seem so far away,” he said he wouldn’t give up on the peace process.
“Even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations, the United States and my administration will not give up on bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis, both sides, closer together,” he said.
Abbas, in his own remarks, said “the key to peace” in the region “begins with ending the Israeli occupation of our land.” He said Israel “cannot continue to act as a state above law” adding that the killers of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh “need to be held accountable.”
Palestinian journalists wore black T-shirts with Abu Akleh’s picture and placed a poster of her on an empty chair in the room where the leaders spoke.
Israel has called the Palestinian claims that the IDF deliberately murdered the journalist a “blatant lie.”
Regarding a joint U.S.-IDF probe, Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Ram Ben Barak said that the failure of American and Israeli experts to determine who fired the fatal shot based on their examinations of the bullet could mean the bullet transferred to the U.S. embassy was “the wrong bullet. The PA had initially refused to provide the bullet for an investigation that Israel was willing to conduct together with the Palestinians.
Earlier Friday, Biden appeared in east Jerusalem at the Augusta Victoria Hospital, which serves Palestinians, to discuss financial assistance for local healthcare. He proposed $100 million, which requires U.S. congressional approval, plus smaller amounts for other assorted programs.
Israel has also committed to upgrading wireless networks in the PA-administered areas and in Gaza, part of a broader effort to improve economic conditions.
“Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity,” Biden said at the hospital. “And access to healthcare, when you need it, is essential to living a life of dignity for all of us.”
Biden acknowledged earlier during the trip that a two-state solution won’t happen “in the near-term.” The U.S. also appears to have accepted defeat in its more modest push to reopen a Jerusalem consulate serving the Palestinians that was closed when Trump recognized the contested city as Israel’s capital.
Palestinian leaders also fear being further undermined by the Abraham Accords. Biden, who arrives Saudi Arabia later Friday to attend a summit of Arab leaders, hopes to broaden that process, which began under Trump.
Hours before Biden was set to become the first U.S. leader to fly directly from Israel to the kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation announced it had opened the kingdom’s airspace to all air carriers that meet the authority’s requirements for overflights.
It signaled the end of its longstanding ban on Israeli flights over its territory — an incremental step toward the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel that was hailed by Biden.
World Israel News contributed to this report.