Abu Akleh killing ‘casts shadow’ over Biden’s next trip, Israeli official says

WASHINGTON — The recent murder of Shireen Abu Akleh has “cast a shadow” over US President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to the region, a senior Israeli official acknowledged on Wednesday, while criticizing Washington’s decision to say the US journalist- Palestinian had probably been shot. by the IDF.

The frustration – echoing statements made by other Israeli officials – was expressed during a broad briefing with several dozen reporters in Washington regarding the president’s upcoming July 13-17 visit to Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia. saudi. The briefing took place on condition of anonymity.

Abu Akleh was killed in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen during an IDF raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin on May 11. The Palestinian Authority said its investigation revealed that the prominent Al Jazeera journalist was intentionally shot dead by Israel. Israel flatly denied the charge and said its own investigation could not determine who was behind the killing, given that Ramallah refused to share the deadly bullet he recovered from the scene.

After considerable pressure from the Biden administration, the PA agreed on Saturday to hand over the ball to the US security coordinator in Jerusalem, who liaises between Israel and the Palestinians. The State Department said Monday that the USSC’s office conducted a forensic examination but was unable to reach a definitive conclusion because the bullet was too damaged. However, the USSC determined that based on reviews by Israeli investigations and the Palestinian Authority, while there was “no reason” to believe it was intentional, the firing from the positions of IDF were probably responsible for Abu Akleh’s death.

The senior Israeli official disputed the latter conclusion, saying it should not have been made if the United States also insisted that the bullet analysis was indeterminate.

Moreover, the official lamented the “symmetry” created by the State Department’s announcement between the Israeli investigations and those of the PA.

File: Palestinians visit the site where Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed, in the West Bank city of Jenin, May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

The IDF conducted a “thorough” investigation, interviewing every soldier operating at the scene, determining where each was standing and the direction in which they fired, the senior official said. As a result, the army managed to reduce the list of soldiers possibly involved to just one. Although unable to reach a final decision without the bullet, the IDF concluded the shot was unintentional, he said.

The PA, on the other hand, was unable to conduct the same level of investigation, the senior Israeli official claimed, noting that the PA “lost control” in Jenin and did not interview the people. Palestinian gunmen nor had access to their weapons. .

“Both sides are using the same rifles – American rifles,” the senior Israeli official revealed. A day earlier, a group of progressive House Democrats introduced legislation that would force the United States to conduct its own investigation into the murder in which it would also be mandated to determine whether American weapons were used in the death of an American citizen. The bill – first revealed by Jewish Currents magazine – has virtually no chance of passing.

Either way, the senior Israeli official argued that any conclusions drawn from the PA’s investigation findings would be wrong.

“With all due respect, I don’t think there’s any symmetry here” between the investigations, he said.

Palestinian Salim Wad points to bullet holes left by a shootout between Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers in a set of narrow alleys about 300 meters (yards) from where Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the West Bank city of Jenin on May 19, 2022. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

“I hope this won’t cast a shadow over … Israeli-Palestinian relations and the president’s visit, but here we are,” the senior official lamented.

What the Arabs really think of the palestinians

While arguing that neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders are ready to assume diplomatic negotiations, given the political unrest in Jerusalem and the “weak and dysfunctional” PA, the senior official said Israel was still considering a series of measures aimed at strengthening the PA. and enabling it to “better cope with internal pressures, in particular [Gaza-ruling terror group] Hamas.

The official also called on the PA to improve relations with several neighboring Arab countries, which have deteriorated since the Abraham Accords normalization agreements that Israel signed with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. Ramallah called the accords, brokered by the previous US administration of Donald Trump, a stab in the back, as they overturned the long-held notion that peace with the Palestinians would be a prerequisite for full Palestinian integration. Israel in the rest of the region.

The Biden administration and some of the Arab countries with ties to Israel have sought to leverage the Abraham Accords to advance the Palestinian issue. The Negev Forum – established earlier this year with representatives from the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt – has incorporated the Palestinian issue into the six working groups aimed at strengthen regional cooperation in various fields.

But Ramallah has been reluctant to cooperate so far, keen to legitimize an effort to further improve Israel’s diplomatic standing in the Middle East while Jerusalem refrains from making major concessions for a two-way solution. States.

Closing their talks at the Negev summit, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, left, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan pose for a photo Monday, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

“I hope that over time they will understand that they can benefit from [the Abraham Accords] so,” the senior Israeli official said.

Alluding to significant frustration with the PA among regional leaders, the senior official said, “I don’t want to quote some of the things I hear from Arabs about Palestinians.”

While the Jerusalem government is now led by Yair Lapid, who supports a two-state solution, that is not the official Israeli position, he said, explaining that the cabinet still includes members who oppose to the idea and therefore maintain an ambiguous position.

Asked if Israel would avoid advancing unilateral steps ahead of Biden’s trip, the senior official simply said, “Israel will do everything possible to make this visit a success.”

Israel happy with Biden’s adherence to Abraham Accords

As for Israel, the main rationale for Biden’s trip is to promote “regional integration” between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the official said.

Reviewing the trip schedule, the senior Israeli official said Biden will receive a welcome ceremony upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport next Wednesday afternoon. He will hold bilateral meetings with Israeli leaders and meet with opposition President Benjamin Netanyahu, in addition to visiting an Iron Dome battery, visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and holding a virtual meeting with Lapid. , Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed. .

He is then expected to visit one of the medical centers in the East Jerusalem hospital network before heading to Bethlehem on Friday for a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, followed by a direct flight to Jeddah for the GCC+ conference. 3.

The senior Israeli official noted with satisfaction the Biden administration’s ‘growing’ commitment to the Abraham Accords more broadly, alluding to what was widely seen as the White House’s initial reluctance to fully embrace an initiative defended by the former president.

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Extending the Abraham Accords and convincing Saudi Arabia to ‘go in that direction’ would be a game-changer for the region,” the official added.

He acknowledged efforts to create an integrated air defense system between Israel and its Arab neighbors to better cooperate against Iran and its proxies. However, the official clarified that “there is still a long way to go” until the initiative can be announced.


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