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Ambassador Nides: ‘Nothing Political’ About Biden’s Visit to East Jerusalem
But the visit became political when the Israeli flag on the presidential vehicle was removed.
By Hugh Fitzgerald
Joe Biden’s visit to east Jerusalem, without any Israeli official allowed to accompany him, and with the Israeli flag on his car replaced with a Palestinian one, was not meant to send a political message about the status of Jerusalem, according to the US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides. A full report on Nides’ naively enthusiastic remarks is here: “Biden’s east Jerusalem visit was not meant as political statement – interview with Nides,” by Lahav Harkov, Jerusalem Post, July 18, 2022:
“The capital of Israel is Jerusalem,” Nides said. “The president said it, I said it, it is the position of the US.”
But Biden did not say anything about Jerusalem being the “undivided” capital of Israel. He left open the possibility of a future Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem. Some say that he semaphored vexilogically his support for that Palestinian capital to be placed in Jerusalem.
Biden’s visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem on Friday was “a healthcare event, nothing to do with politics,” the ambassador said. “It had nothing to do with the status of Jerusalem. We could not have been clearer about it. Those who want to make it political, that’s their problem. It was about giving money to these hospitals.”
That visit became political when the Israeli flag on the Presidential vehicle was removed and replaced by a second American flag, when that vehicle travelled to the hospital in east Jerusalem. It became political, too, when the Bidenites refused to let any Israeli accompany the President on his trip to the hospital. These were meant, unhappy Israelis believe, as signs of support for the Palestinian claim to east Jerusalem.
“Biden’s remarks during the hospital visit were about his first wife and daughter who died in a car accident, and his son who died of cancer, not about Jerusalem or political issues, Nides pointed out.
“It was about helping sick families,” the ambassador said. “We didn’t want to make it political, and we did exactly what we said. We gave $100 million for the Palestinian people who use that hospital. And 20% of those who use it are Israeli.”
“We didn’t want to make it political.” Also sprach Ambassador Nides. But then why choose to visit an Arab hospital in east Jerusalem when there are other Arab hospitals, in other parts of Judea and Samaria, that Biden might have visited? Or he could have visited an Israeli hospital, such as Hadassah Ein Kerem, that treats even more Arab patients—and many of them for free – than does Augusta Victoria Hospital.
And if that visit to east Jerusalem was not political, why were the Americans so dead set that no Israelis accompany them?
Of course the visit to the hospital was “political.” It was meant to recognize that the Palestinians have a major institution – the Augusta Victoria hospital – in east Jerusalem, which helps buttress their claim to that part of the city that they insist will be the capital of their future state. Biden deliberately chose to visit with the Israeli flag removed from his car, despite the insult to his Israeli hosts.
The ambassador was unsure why Biden’s armored vehicle had two American flags on it [on the trip to the hospital] when it carried an Israeli and an American flag during other stops in Jerusalem, suggesting the flags had not been changed after his visit to Bethlehem earlier that day. However, in Bethlehem, the car had a US and a Palestinian flag.
The removal of the Israeli flag when the vehicle went to east Jerusalem was another insult to Israel, and a way of semaphoring the American understanding that east Jerusalem is disputed, rather than Israeli, territory. The Bidenites understood perfectly the symbolism of those flags, which is why, when Biden went to meet Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, his vehicle now displayed both the American and the Palestinian flag.
The obvious politics of diminishing the Israeli role in east Jerusalem could also be seen in the humiliating way the Americans insisted that no Israelis accompany Biden when he went to the hospital. That was a way of minimizing Israel’s connection to, and denying its sovereignty over, the eastern part of the Jewish people’s “eternal, undivided capital.” And many Israelis understood perfectly the significance of that decision.
The change in flags and the refusal to have Israelis accompany the president to the Augusta Victoria hospital sparked interpretations that Biden was unwilling to view the part of Jerusalem that he was visiting – near the 3,000-year-old Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives – as Israeli.
That’s exactly right. The Americans did what they could to subtly support the Palestinian claim, and diminish the Israeli one, to east Jerusalem.
In addition, Biden in his remarks at the hospital compared the Palestinians to the Irish, who were under British occupation for 400 years, and quoted an Irish poem about hoping for a “tidal wave of justice,” which critics viewed as a political remark.
Perhaps Biden, who in thought, word, and deed is stumblebumming and malapropping and lapsing into stupefied silence more and more, didn’t realize how offensive to Israel was his comparison. England as an imperial power occupied Ireland, and mistreated the Irish, for 400 years. Israel has been the homeland, the center both of Jewish religious life and political yearning, for 3000 years. There is a difference.
Looking back on Biden’s two-day visit to Israel last week, Nides assessed it as “a complete home run. The objective was to project the idea that this guy really loves Israel. I think that was quite clear. We wanted to make sure the unbreakable bond between the Biden administration and Israel was loud and clear. We wanted comfort around security issues, around what we’re doing for Israel and our commitment to push back on Iran, and that was quite clear.
If “this guy loves Israel,” he should have kept the flag of Israel on his car, no matter where he went in Jerusalem. If “this guy loves Israel,” he ought to have allowed Israeli officials to travel with him to east Jerusalem. If “this guy loves Israel,” he should have been willing to declared Israel to be the “eternal, undivided capital” of the Jewish state.
“When he says you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist, he really means that. I think it’s pretty hard for anyone to disagree it was a good trip.”
Quite a few Israelis beg to differ. The insult of the Israel flag being deliberately removed from the Presidential vehicle (“the Beast”) for the trip to east Jerusalem, the sting of prohibiting Israelis from traveling with Biden to the hospital, the grotesque implied comparison by Biden of Israel ”occupying Palestinian lands” as being similar to the way the British occupied Ireland, will not be forgotten.
Nides said that the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and he noted the unscripted moments, such as when Biden knelt before two Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem and stayed at the memorial to hold a conversation with them.
“That wasn’t planned,” said Nides. “The idea was going to be to say hello and move on, but that’s Joe Biden!” Like when Biden spent close to an hour talking to American athletes at the Maccabiah Games. “He just loved it.”
Those were the good moments. But do these sentimental interludes with Holocaust survivors, or with Maccabiah athletes, make up for Biden’s failure to make clear that all of Jerusalem belongs to Israel?
Asked about the challenges of the trip, Nides pointed out that Israel had just recently switched prime ministers from Naftali Bennett to Yair Lapid.
“There was a debate if [Biden] should come or not,” Nides admitted. “I said that we’re not coming for any particular government; we are coming for the Israeli people.”
The Jerusalem Declaration that Biden and Lapid signed is mostly declarative, he said, meant to highlight the “unbreakable bond between the US and Israel.”…
The Jerusalem Declaration repeated the longstanding American commitment to Israel, but did not include anything new. The U.S. will supply the money for the weapons – chiefly the anti-missile systems Iron Dome and Iron Beam — that it had previously agreed to; the Declaration proclaims, not for the first time, that the U.S. will make sure that “Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.” But an unambiguous American commitment to use force to prevent that result was never stated, neither in the Declaration itself nor in any of Biden’s public remarks in Israel. The Israelis clearly differ from the Americans on the efficacy of diplomacy, which the Americans continue to put their faith in. The Israelis, on the other hand, more realistic than the Bidenites, are preparing à tous azimuts for war with a mad-dog regime in Tehran, a war they hope they never have to fight but will be ready if they do.
Israel made numerous gestures toward the Palestinians at the Americans’ behest ahead of Biden’s visit. These included opening the Allenby Crossing to Jordan 24 hours a day, seven days a week; reviving the Joint Economic Council between the Palestinians and Israel; setting up the infrastructure for 4G cellular connections; authorizing Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank; and more.
Why the Americans felt it necessary for Israel to make all those “gestures” toward the Palestinians is entirely unclear. What had the Palestinians done to deserve those gestures? They continue with their “Pay-For-Slay” program, and their naming of schools, streets, and squares after terrorist murderers, and their constant incitement of murderous Jew-hatred in their schoolbooks and on their children’s television shows. And what was the result of those gestures? Nothing. The Palestinians continued to insist that the “two-state solution“ would only be possible if they could place their future state right on the 1949 armistice lines (described demurely as the “1967 lines”), and with their capital in Jerusalem.
Nides said he had “worked on this day and night” and was “very happy” with the outcome. He was also pleased that Lapid spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and that Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Abbas shortly before Biden’s visit.
Why was he pleased? Did he think Mahmoud Abbas would exhibit the slightest gratitude, or understanding of Israel’s position, to either Lapid or Gantz? For Mahmoud Abbas, it is always a question of demanding more. If Israel will allow the 4G cellular connection, then why not the 5G? If it will allow a certain number of new Palestinian apartments to be built in Area C, why not twice that number?
“We have no doubt how difficult the situation is, but we want to keep the vision of a two-state solution alive,” said Nides. “President Biden is committed to a two-state solution and the security of the State of Israel.”
Asked whether the US demanded that the Palestinians make any gestures toward Israel, Nides spoke of a need to show appreciation for Israel’s gestures.
In other words, they have yet to show that appreciation for Israel’s gestures. And they won’t ever do so, not this month, and not next year. But Nides can’t give a straight answer to the question “did the Biden administration ask the Palestinians for some ‘gesture’ in return,” because he dare not admit that there was no such request.
As for the “pay-for-slay” program in which the Palestinian Authority pays terrorists who attack Israelis, Nides said the US “has not been shy about our demand to end the practice. We are working all the time on these issues. They are important to the US and to Israelis, as they should be. It is morally wrong, and we will continue to work on it.”
The US also announced an additional $201 million for UNRWA, the agency for Palestinian refugees of the 1948 War of Independence and their descendants.
By the time Biden left the Middle East, he had let the Palestinians pick his pocket for a grand total of $316 million. Taxpayers must be delighted.
Asked about the many documented cases of anti-Israel incitement and antisemitism in the learning materials used in UNRWA schools and on teachers’ social media accounts, Nides said, “UNRWA is not perfect. They need to continue reforming themselves. I met with the head of UNRWA and we continue to push them.”
This business of the antisemitic incitement in UNRWA schoolbooks has been going on for years. Each year, the same script is followed: the antisemitic passages in those UNRWA books are brought to the attention of donors by investigators from the NGO IMPACT-se. And each year the donors then go to UNRWA to complain and ask for an iron-clad commitment this time, and are given the same promises, year after year, that those books will be at once revised so as to omit those offending passages. And the donors open their pockets yet again, only to find, the next year, and the year after that, und so weiter, that those schoolbooks remain spittle-flecked with antisemitism.
For Nides to say that “UNRWA is not perfect” is putting it mildly. It is now the largest disseminator of antisemitic content in the world. And when Nides adds that “they [UNRWA] need to continue reforming themselves,” the implication is that they have been doing so – reforming. They have not. And Nides, in a comical display of self-satisfaction, proudly announces that he has himself “met with the head of UNRWA” – which led to nothing except more furrowed-brow promises to “do something about it.”
At the same time, “they [UNRWA] do a lot of good work, and it is very important that they are funded.
UNRWA does “a lot of good work,” Ambassador Thomas Nides assures us, so please, let’s not harp on the virulent antisemitism that is inculcated in UNRWA schools. Where have we heard this line of argument before? Hitler built the autobahnen and the Volkswagens to drive on them. Mussolini drained the Pontine marshes and made the trains run on time. Stalin electrified the whole Soviet Union, from Grodno to Vladivostok. Or as Eric Idle sang, ”Always look on the bright side of life.”
“There is a massive need in the West Bank for refugees’ healthcare and education. We need to look at the totality of what they do.”
See the previous paragraph, re Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin.
Nides said that Saudi Arabia opening its skies to all civilian flights – meaning that Israeli airlines can fly in Saudi airspace – is “one step forward” toward open relations between Jerusalem and Riyadh.…
The Saudis have been quick to correct that claim that Nides and other Bidenites have made. They have clearly said that opening their airspace to Israel is not – repeat, not – to be interpreted as a step toward joining the Abraham Accords.
Nides called the visit a “home run” and a “huge deal.” But Palestinians did not drop or modify any of their incessant demands. They still insist that the “consulate to the Palestinians” must be reopened in Jerusalem. They demand that the PLO office in Washington be reopened. They want the PLO to be removed from the list of terror organizations. They ask the Americans to recognize a Palestinian state “on the 1967 lines,” a state with its “capital in Jerusalem.” They’ve not given an inch in their demands, even though Biden during his quick trip managed to lavish another $316 million on them. The Saudis disappointed the Bidenites, both in refusing to promise to increase their oil production, and in not signaling a desire to join the Abraham Accords. “A home run”?
Ambassador Nides thinks Biden deserves an A+ for all that he supposedly accomplished on his trip to the Middle East. I’d give him a Gentleman’s C. But then, when I used to haunt the graves of Academe, I was always known as an easy grader.