Biden says US will get blame for Abu Akleh murder

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – US President Joe Biden has claimed his government insists on responsibility for the May killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli military.

“The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent account of his death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere,” Biden said Friday during a joint press conference with the president. Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas. .

The US president made no mention of Israel’s responsibility for the killing of the 51-year-old American-Palestinian journalist on May 11 while she was reporting in the occupied West Bank.

“She was an American citizen and a proud Palestinian,” Biden said. “I hope his legacy inspires more young people to continue his work of reporting the truth and telling stories too often overlooked.”

The press conference was held at the PA presidential compound in Bethlehem, in the southern occupied West Bank, during Biden’s four-day tour of the Middle East region from July 13-16.

Critics have accused Biden of failing to take action to account for Abu Akleh’s murder.

Activists, volunteers and journalists set up billboards and large banners of Abu Akleh across Bethlehem ahead of Biden’s visit. Dozens of Palestinians demonstrated about a kilometer from the PA presidential compound.

No questions were allowed from the press after the conference, but a dozen journalists wore black t-shirts with Abu Akleh’s face on them in protest.

A United Nations investigation concluded that the bullet that killed the veteran journalist was fired by Israeli forces.

The Biden administration, however, angered Palestinians when the State Department acknowledged earlier this month that the deadly bullet that struck Abu Akleh likely came from an Israeli military position, but it called the killing an unintended “result of tragic circumstances”.

Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said Biden’s “statement of intent” on Abu Akleh was part and parcel of US policy toward Israel.

“It’s symptomatic of the feeling of protecting Israel’s impunity, of preventing Israel from facing responsibility in any form,” Ashrawi told Al Jazeera.

“You had the opportunity, you took Israel’s position and that’s it – you’re trying to whitewash the situation,” Ashrawi continued. “It’s not just Shireen – it’s all Palestinians. We need to see a sense of justice.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a US-based watchdog, “cautiously” welcomed Biden’s pledge to take responsibility for Friday’s killing. But he said the group was “disappointed” that the president did not engage in an FBI investigation or meet with the slain journalist’s family during his visit.

“The Biden administration needs to understand that the campaign to deliver real justice for Shireen is not going to go away and that any perception of indifference toward journalists would be a huge harm to the human rights that the US President claims to cherish,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said in a statement.

“Two-State Solution”

Speaking in Bethlehem, Biden said his “commitment to the goal of the two-state solution has not changed.”

“Two states along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed exchanges remain the best way to achieve equal measures of security, prosperity, freedom and democracy for Palestinians as well as Israelis,” Biden said, adding that “the Palestinian people deserve an independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous state”.

The US president also announced that Palestinian mobile phone companies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip will be allowed to connect to 4G networks by the end of 2023.

Despite his statements, Biden has been criticized for the short time allocated for meetings with Palestinian officials during his visit, as well as his failure to take a strong political stance toward Israel’s continued illegal settlement construction. in the occupied West. Bank.

Al Jazeera correspondent John Holman said it was clear there was “no movement on the two-state solution”.

“President Biden said he was committed to it, but he didn’t go any further and it’s pretty clear that it’s not on the agenda for him,” Holman added.

At the Bethlehem press conference, Abbas called on Biden to reopen the US consulate in occupied East Jerusalem and remove the Palestine Liberation Organization from the US “terrorist” list, adding “we are not not terrorists”.

He also called for a rollback against “racial discrimination” and “apartheid” against the Palestinian people.

Under Trump, the US government recognized all of Jerusalem – including the occupied eastern half – as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

At a joint press conference held Thursday by Biden and Lapid, Biden said his visit to occupied East Jerusalem did not signal a reversal of that recognition.

Trump also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights occupied in 1967, closed the Palestinian representative office in Washington, and closed the US consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem. It also cut financial support for the PA and funding for the UN refugee agency (UNRWA), among others.

Al Jazeera bureau chief Walid al-Omary said Biden’s visit to Bethlehem was “just a formality – nothing more,” pointing to the time lag between the two parties.

“He will spend 45 minutes in Bethlehem, compared to 45 hours” in Israel, he said.

“It is clear that the US president is giving the Palestinians nothing but aid or attempts to show that he pressured Israel to provide certain procedures,” al-Omary added.

After the conference, Biden proceeded to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to fly directly to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the final leg of his Middle East trip later Friday.

Tour of occupied East Jerusalem

Before traveling to the occupied West Bank, Biden visited Augusta Victoria Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem, where he announced financial assistance of approximately $100 million to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network (EJHN). , subject to the approval of the United States Congress.

“These hospitals are the backbone of the Palestinian healthcare system,” Biden said during a press conference at the hospital on Friday morning.

“The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is proud to support this network of hospitals with $85 million since 2014 as part of our commitment to supporting the health and dignity of the Palestinian people,” said he added.

Biden is the first sitting US president to visit occupied East Jerusalem outside the Old City.

A small Palestinian protest took place outside the hospital calling for justice and accountability for Abu Akleh. The Israeli police prevented the demonstration from advancing.

At the hospital, Biden also announced some $200 million in aid to the United Nations refugee agency, UNRWA, which is the main humanitarian agency for millions of Palestinian refugees.

Biden’s resumption of aid follows decisions by his predecessor Donald Trump to cut all financial support for the agency.

Reporting from outside the hospital, Holman said the only thing the United States offers the Palestinians is money.

“Over $300 million in relief, some of which is subject to approval, relief for some hospitals, financial relief for the economy,” Holman said. “Will that be enough to satisfy the Palestinians and their authorities – no.”

Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday and spent all of Thursday in the country, meeting with both Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog.

Other than the expected announcement of a resumption of financial aid to the PA and humanitarian institutions, Biden has not reversed any of Trump’s policies.

Al Jazeera senior analyst Marwan Bishara said it was becoming clear that the United States was “relinquishing its responsibility to be a serious player in ending the conflict”.

By only announcing financial aid to the Palestinians, “the occupation of Palestine, apartheid in Palestine, is no longer seen as a political issue, as a national issue,” Bishara said.

“It’s considered a humanitarian issue that needs some sort of subsidy.”

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