Biden’s Disastrous Press Conference with Abbas in Bethlehem


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Biden’s Disastrous Press Conference with Abbas in Bethlehem
Everyone knows what Abbas thinks of democracy. Everyone but Biden.
By Hugh Fitzgerald

The least tolerable part of Biden’s recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, from the viewpoint of Israelis, was his speech at the end of his visit with Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. A report on that speech is here: “Biden: I support two states based on pre-1967 lines,” by Tovah Lazaroff and Sarah Ben-Nun, Jerusalem Post, July 15, 2022:

US President Joe Biden pledged his support for a two-state resolution based on the pre-1967 lines with mutual swaps when he held a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in Bethlehem.

He did not cede to Abbas’ request to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, but he spoke of a “future Palestinian state” and one with continuous territory.

"Two states along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, remains the best way to achieve equal measures of security prosperity freedom and democracy for the Palestinians as well as Israelis.

“The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that is independent, sovereign, viable and continuous [sic],” Biden said.

Despite this, he said, the ground is “not ripe” at “this moment to restart negotiations.”

It is possible, however, he said, to use Israel’s new ties with its neighbors to improve relations with the Palestinians.

“At this moment, when Israel is improving relations with nations throughout the region we can harness that same momentum to reinvigorate the peace process between the Palestinian people and the Israelis,” Biden said.

When it came to Jerusalem, Biden said, “it was central to the national visions of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

When it comes to Jerusalem, the respective claims are incommensurable. For Jews, Jerusalem contains the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount where the First and Second Temples once stood. The city has been at the center of Jewish religious life, and political yearning, for millennia. For Palestinians, Jerusalem is much less important. The Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) is only the third holiest site in Islam. Jerusalem has been the spiritual capital of the Jews for 3000 years. It has never played such a role in the lives of Palestinian Arabs. Between 1949 and 1967, no Arab leader, save for the Jordanian king, even bothered to visit Jerusalem. No Arabs came on pilgrimage. The city became under Jordanian rule an ill-considered backwater – not Jerusalem, but Amman was the capital – and it revived spectacularly only after the Jews retook the city in 1967. It has now become so important to the Palestinians only because it is so important to the Jews; the Arabs feel compelled to deny the despised Jews any claim to the city.

“Jerusalem must be a city for all its people. Its holy sites preserving its status quo, with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan continuing to serve as custodian,” Biden explained.

Biden needn’t worry about the Israelis: they will continue to scrupulously keep Jerusalem “a city for all its people.” Quite a different state of affairs from what happened when the Jordanians were in charge, between 1949 and 1967, and banned Jews from visiting the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the Jewish Quarter, the entire Old City. They could not even walk among the graves in the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where the Jordanians pulled up tens of thousands of tombstones to smash up as gravel, or used to line the floors of Jordanian army latrines.

Nor need he worry about Israel changing the status quo at the city’s holy sites, despite hysterical Palestinian claims to the contrary. The Israeli police continue to prevent Jewish visitors from saying prayers on the Temple Mount, or from bringing tefillin, prayer books, and prayer shawls with them onto the Mount. The Israelis also make sure that Jewish visitors are limited to visits during three hours in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, five days a week. Those visitors walk along the perimeter of the Al-Aqsa compound, staying well away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque itself. Meanwhile, Muslim visitors can arrive at any time and stay as long as they wish; they walk, and pray, everywhere in the Al-Aqsa compound. The only time the Israeli police intervene with the Arab visitors is when they throw rocks and bottles at Jewish visitors on the Mount, or at Jews worshipping at the Western Wall far below. Then the Israeli police – who can fault them? – do intervene to stop the violence.

Biden acknowledged the loss of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in May while covering an IDF raid in Jenin. The US has said that is likely she was accidentally shot by an IDF soldier.

“She was an American citizen and a proud Palestinian,” whose work was” vital to democracy,” Biden said.

In death, Abu Akleh has been made into a Palestinian “martyr,” endowed with qualities she did not possess. Her work as a journalist was not “vital to democracy.” Unlike such Arab journalists as Khaled Abu Toameh and Bassam Tawil, Abu Akleh never took issue with the corruption and mismanagement of Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies. She did not write about the killing of Nizar Banat, or about any of the atrocities the PA and Hamas commit against their own people. She covered the Israelis, the “occupation,” and all the terrible things that those Israelis supposedly did. She gave her employer, Al Jazeera, the house organ of the Qatari ruler, exactly what it wanted. Palestinian journalists who dare to report the truth about the PA and Hamas do not stay safe, or in their jobs, for very long; Abu Akleh was on the job, dutifully demonizing Israel, for two decades.

“The US will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death,” he said.

Yes, of course. Why say this at all, unless you are joining the Palestinians in calling into question the Israeli investigation? Does Biden think the Israelis are not interested in arriving at a “full and transparent accounting of her death”? It’s not the Israelis who crushed one side of the fatal bullet so that it would be impossible to determine from what gun – Israeli or Palestinian – it had been fired. If Biden felt he simply had to say something about Abu Akleh, he could have said this: “Shireen Abu Akleh was an American citizen and a proud Palestinian, with more than twenty years of experience as a journalist. All of us – Americans, Palestinians, and Israelis — hope that the investigation into the tragic circumstances of her death can soon come to an end.”

To help improve Palestinian day-to-day life, Biden said, he was pledging an additional $200 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Shouldn’t Biden be reminded of the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits the American government from giving money to the Palestinians as long as they continue with their “Pay-For-Slay” program? That program, few will need to be reminded, provides generous lifetime subsidies both to imprisoned terrorists, and to the families of terrorists who died while committing their acts of terrorism. Biden has on this trip been lavishing money on both the PA and UNRWA. Apparently he’s prepared to keep on violating the Taylor Force Act – he’s done it a half-dozen times during his presidency, with each announcement of more money being given to the PA — and so far, there’s been no congressional outcry. Why not?

Biden also referenced the pledge he made earlier in the day when he visited Augusta Victoria hospital in east Jerusalem for $100 million for Palestinian health care services in east Jerusalem.

“The United States has engaged with Israel on steps to improve life for Palestinians including the provision of a 4G internet system for Palestinians, renewable energy and freedom of movement for goods and people.

“We cannot wait for a peace agreement to solve everything. The best way to keep the hope is to stick to the goal that things will get better,” said Biden.

“The Palestinian Authority has its own work to do,” he said, listing them as insisting on and prioritizing democracy, transparency and implementing more transparency.

“This is critical to building a democratic Palestinian society.”

How can a despot such as Mahmoud Abbas, who is in the 18th year of his four-year term as president, “prioritize democracy and transparency [in government]”? We all know what Abbas thinks of democracy. He routinely has his critics rounded up and imprisoned. When he wanted to rid himself of his most dangerous critic on social media, Nizar Binat; he had his goons beat Binat to death. “Transparency” is similarly anathema to the PA president; it would expose the massive corruption in the PA, that has allowed Abbas and his two sons Tarek and Yasser to amass a family fortune of $400 million. it would reveal the system of government sinecures, handed out to the relatives of Abbas’ loyalists — precisely to keep them loyal.

Abbas urged the United States to unilaterally recognize the state of Palestinian with east Jerusalem as its capital “on the 1967 borders” and called on it to end the “Israeli occupation.”

The most disturbing moment of Biden’s trip was in the joint news conference he held with Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. He called for a “two-state solution along the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” The ”pre-1967 lines” is the more acceptable way of stating that Israel must be squeezed back within the 1949 armistice lines, that Abba Eban once described as “the lines of Auschwitz,” giving Israel a nine-mile-wide waist from Qalqilya to the sea. Within those lines, Israel could be cut in two by an invader from the east within an hour. Biden is calling for a “solution” that would require Israelis to live in a much-reduced area, stripped of territory, such as the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley, that it needs to retain if it is to have , as UNSC 242 insists it must, “secure [i.e. defensible] and recognized boundaries.”

“The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous,” Biden said. I’m not sure why the “Palestinian Arabs,” who are indistinguishable from the Sunni Arabs in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, deserve to have a 23rd Arab state, built on land that the Jews for 3000 years have lived on, been exiled from, yearned for, and returned to, a land ruled by the indigenous Jews, and then by a shifting cast of rulers — Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Ottoman Turks, British, and then, but only partially and briefly, by Arabs from 1949 to 1967, the year when the Jews managed by force of arms to retake all of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). A handful of Muslim Arabs arrived in “Palestine” 1600 years after the Jews had established their kingdom; they never established a Palestinian Arab state on the land, nor did they express a deep unalterable attachment to it.

Biden then went on to repeat his mantra: “Two states for two people [sic], both of whom have deep and ancient roots in this land, living side by side in peace and security. Both states fully respecting equal rights of the others’ citizens.“

Does Biden think that the Arabs have “deep and ancient roots in this land”? In Arabia, sure, but in “Palestine”? Since when? Where is the evidence? Are there thousands of Arab archeological sites, as there are Jewish ones, in “Palestine”? Do Palestinian religious texts express a longing for “Palestine” the way Jewish texts express a longing for Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel, and for Jerusalem, in so many places? The Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, mentions Jerusalem 669 times, and Zion (which usually means Jerusalem, and sometimes the Land of Israel) appears 154 times. How often are “Palestine” and “Jerusalem” mentioned in the Qur’an? They are not mentioned even once.

Scattered tribes of Arabs moved into the area of Palestine through the centuries, but never established their own state, unlike the Jews. The land of milk and honey, without its proper owners, became — as Mark Twain and other 19th century travelers noted – desolate and largely uninhabited. There are tens of thousands of Jewish archaeological sites to be found all over “Palestine,” but only a handful of Arab ones. The nomadic Bedouins who roamed from Arabia to Palestine and then to the Syrian Desert, or to the Sinai, and then across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic, moved whenever the spirit moved them. Neither they, nor the more settled Arabs in the villages of what the Romans renamed as “Palestine,” ever thought of themselves as a unique people, attached to a unique land. They were simply one small branch of the vast Arab people, whose domain ultimately stretched from Morocco to Iran.

What Biden should have said at the joint final press conference was this:

I’m sure we all realize that until the high tide of terrorism withdraws, Israel and the Palestinians can’t start to work on a possible solution to their problems. Incitements to violence, including television programs and schoolbooks filled with antisemitism, will have to end completely before negotiations on a “two-state solution” can be expected to begin. Boundary lines will need to be redrawn to ensure security. There will of course be no return to what were only the armistice lines of 1949, as the main author of UNSC Resolution 242, Lord Caradon, once explained:

“We could have said: well, you [Israel] go back to the 1967 line. But I know the 1967 line, and it’s a rotten line. You couldn’t have a worse line for a permanent international boundary. It’s where the troops happened to be on a certain night in 1948. It’s got no relation to the needs of the situation.“

That is what Biden could have said, if he’d been thinking straight. But he wasn’t. So he didn’t.