Biden says he told Saudi prince he blamed him for Khashoggi’s murder

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

JERUSALEM — President Biden said Friday that now was not the time to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but insisted he remained committed to a two-state solution to their conflict and expressed the hope that the diplomatic agreements sealed in 2020 between Israel and four Arab States could give new impetus to the peace process.

“Even if the ground is not ripe at this time to resume negotiations, the United States and my administration will not give up trying to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis and the two sides together,” Biden said.

“At this time, as Israel improves its relations with its neighbors across the region, we can harness that same momentum to reinvigorate the peace process between the Palestinian people and the Israelis,” Biden added, referring to a set of agreements known as the Abraham Accords, which were negotiated under the Trump administration.

Mr Biden made the comments at a press conference after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a dark time for Palestinians. The meeting was held in Bethlehem instead of Ramallah, the authority’s administrative center, to allow Mr Biden a brief visit to the Church of the Nativity, the 4th-century basilica that stands on a site where tradition wants Jesus to be born.

His remarks followed a call from Mr. Abbas for Mr. Biden to help “prepare the atmosphere of a political horizon for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace.”

“Isn’t it time for this occupation to end?” Abbas said at the press conference. “The key to peace and security in our region begins with the recognition of the State of Palestine,” he added, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia – the most powerful Arab country – has begun progressive steps to normalize relations with Israel for the first time on Friday.

“The opportunity for the two-state solution along the 1967 borders may only be available today,” the Palestinian leader said. “But we don’t know what will happen later.”

After an exuberant welcome in Israel, it was a tenser morning for Mr Biden, who was greeted by protests from Palestinians in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, hours before a scheduled flight to what could be even more tense meetings in Saudi Arabia.

In Bethlehem, Mr Biden said his commitment to the goal of a two-state solution had not changed, saying: “Two states along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps remain the best way forward. to achieve equal measures of security, prosperity, freedom and democracy for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Mr. Abbas also pushed Mr. Biden to remove the Palestine Liberation Organization from the US terror list and to reopen the US consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem and the PLO mission in Washington, both closed under the President Donald J. Trump.

The Palestinian leadership is divided between the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that wrested control of Gaza from the authority in 2007. Most Palestinians see little hope of reconciliation, according to recent polls.

In Gaza, the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt is in its 15th year. One in four Palestinians was unemployed in 2021. Seven in 10 say they believe a Palestinian state is no longer feasible due to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, according to a June poll. Nearly 80 percent want the resignation of Mr. Abbas, the authority’s chairman, who was last elected in 2005, and the vast majority see both the authority and Hamas as corrupt.

In this context, many Palestinians are frustrated with the Biden administration, with 65% opposing dialogue between their leaders and the United States. While the Biden administration has often called for a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict — and Mr. Biden repeated that call on Thursday — the perception among analysts is that he hasn’t matched his words with actions.

On the eve of Mr. Biden’s visit, the White House announced several financial measures intended to improve the lives of Palestinians, but stopped short of a political process to create a Palestinian state and left several measures in place. Trump era.

In his remarks on Friday, Mr Biden also called on the Palestinian Authority to do more to clean up its own house.

“The Palestinian Authority also has important work to do, if you will allow me to say so,” Biden said. “Now is the time to strengthen Palestinian institutions to improve governance, transparency and accountability. Now is the time to unleash the incredible potential of the Palestinian people through greater engagement and civil society to fight corruption, advance rights and freedoms, and improve community services.

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