Palestinians consider US economic support “not a substitute” for peace

Before Joe Biden’s First Visit to Jerusalem as President of the United States

Occupied Palestinian Territories (AFP) Prior to Joe Biden’s first visit to Jerusalem as US President, Washington’s ambassador to Israel said his team would seek to pressure Israeli officials to urge them to make concessions to the Palestinians.

But Ambassador Thomas Nides spoke of ensuring that Palestinians have access to economic benefits such as 4G internet, not of throwing US diplomatic weight to revive the peace process since 2014.

Biden’s first trip to the Middle East since entering the White House last year begins today, Wednesday, in Israel and he is expected to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Relations between Washington and the Palestinians improved under Biden, after falling to an all-time low among his predecessor, Donald Trump, a staunch supporter of Israel.

In addition to the ability to provide high-speed Internet, the visit could also testify to the return of U.S. funding for hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem that have historically served the Palestinians.

But some Palestinians say they are tired of US diplomacy focusing more on economic benefits than the core issues of the seven-decade conflict.

“It would be good to have the fourth generation,” said Muhammad Mustafa, the former deputy prime minister and former chief executive of Paltel, the largest telecommunications operator in the Palestinian territories.

“But it is clear that it is not a substitute for resolving major issues such as the issue of Jerusalem, sovereignty or freedom,” he told AFP.

Mustafa believes that “Israel believes that people will forget the bigger picture.”

Hamas expects nothing.

Mustafa believes that the promise to provide the fourth generation network “4G”, emphasized by the new US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides in an interview with “The Times of Israel”, will provide immediate support for the activities of Palestinian companies.

Palestinians are currently being forced to either buy Israeli cell phone cards or struggle with slower 3G connections.

Mustafa says that “the Israeli operators have a large share of the Palestinian telecommunications and broadband market,” adding that “this will be an opportunity to give it back to the Palestinian companies.”

Mustafa points out that “the Israelis think that if they give us the fourth generation network, they will get us quiet on other matters,” emphasizing, “We are interested, but we also want bigger things.”

Until July 1, Israel was led by former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a right-wing opponent of the Palestinians’ main demand for state capture.

Bennett has adopted an approach known as “conflict mitigation” that seeks to defuse tensions by improving economic opportunities in the West Bank and the beleagured Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

One of the key things he did within this approach was to increase permits for Palestinians, including those from Gaza, to seek better-paying jobs in Israel.

Asked about expectations of Biden’s visit, Hamas official Bassem Naim said: “We do not expect anything.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the centrist who succeeded Bennett, supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But he will assume his duties until the elections scheduled for next November are organized, and therefore he is seen as not having sufficient room for maneuver to launch daring peace initiatives.

When Lapid visited Paris last week, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that “there is no alternative to resuming political dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Senior Israeli officials told AFP that Lapid was “open” to meeting Abbas, but not for the time being to launch a new peace initiative.

“Money supports the occupation”

Biden claimed in an article in the Washington Post last weekend that his administration had reallocated nearly $ 500 million to support the Palestinians after Trump cut funding.

But while Israeli authorities have promised to welcome Biden to Jerusalem with a sea of ​​flags, there is little festive anticipation in the West Bank.

For Sam Bahour, a prominent Palestinian-American businessman in the West Bank, indifference to Biden’s visit goes beyond the recent fluctuations in the Israeli government.

He added: “The Biden administration has fallen into the Israeli trap, this trap fragments all Palestinian rights under international law, and then it is used as cards as if they are making concessions to the Palestinians.”

He believes that supporting Israeli initiatives in the West Bank is simply “throwing money at the occupation.”

Bahour emphasizes that the Palestinians can handle the slower internet, but they cannot handle survival without establishing a state.

“We do not need a fourth generation network (…) what we need is for the fourth generation Palestinians not to live under military occupation,” he said.

Expansion of settlements in the West Bank

On the other hand, just a short distance from a group of Palestinian tents and huts in the northern Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, trucks are operating at full capacity in preparation for the construction of a school for Israeli settlers.

Zohar Zarour, 32, a resident of the Mohola settlement, told Reuters the settlement was trying to expand as demand for it rose sharply.

From the public eye, Israeli settlements are expanding across the occupied West Bank, sparking Palestinian fears of their displacement and testing U.S. opposition to such construction ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit this week.

Biden, in an opinion piece published by The Washington Post on Saturday, said the United States is rebuilding relations with the Palestinians and is working with Congress to return some $ 500 million in funding to the Palestinians. His administration also undertook to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem that was closed by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

But it has done little to meet Palestinian demands for US support to end the decades-old Israeli occupation.

While the US administration expresses strong opposition to the expansion of Israeli settlements, which they say “deeply damages the prospects for a two-state solution”, settlement construction is in full swing.

Meanwhile, the search for a solution that includes an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, which sees the United States and other countries as the best basis for a lasting peace, is halted.

The Palestinian farmer in the Jordan Valley, Salah Jamil (53), says they do not want to leave any Palestinians in the area and want to seize the land.

Most countries consider the settlements that Israel built on land captured during the 1967 Middle East War to be illegal. Israel disputes this and the settlement of some 440,000 Israelis in the West Bank, citing biblical, historical and political connections with the area where three million Palestinians live under military rule.

In May, the Israeli government approved the construction of 4,400 new homes for Jewish settlers. Plans for further expansion of Jewish settlements, which would effectively cut off the area that the Palestinians hope would form the basis of their future state, should be discussed after Biden’s visit.

“It is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral action that will exacerbate tensions and undermine efforts to support a negotiated two-state solution,” such as settlement activities, a U.S. Department of State spokesman said. foreign affairs told Reuters.

David Elhayani, the outgoing head of the Yesha Council, the main umbrella organization for settlers, said it was time for the Palestinians to accept the lack of a Palestinian state.

“The settlement project has started and it cannot be stopped now,” he added.

“Protection of the settlement enterprise”

At a time when Israel is deepening the normalization of relations with the Arab countries in the region, the situation remains ambiguous about the steps the United States intends to take to discourage its ally from further occupation. to hedge.

Dror Etkes of Kerem Nabot, who monitors Israeli policy in the West Bank, said Biden’s upcoming visit “could have an impact on the amount of noise Israel is making about expanding settlements, but not on (settlement) construction itself.” He added that “the whole political system (in Israel) is in a state of mobilization to protect the settlement project.”

The history of the first settlements in the Jordan Valley dates back to the period immediately after the 1967 war. The soil in this area is fertile, and there are orchards and date farms on the border with Jordan. The Israeli planners considered it a key to create a defensive buffer zone at a comfortable distance east of Jerusalem.

Among these settlements is Mehula, which was built in the late 1960s on Palestinian-owned land with the approval of the Israeli government.

The manifestations of military protection, roads, water and electricity infrastructure in the settlements are in stark contrast to the conditions and conditions prevailing in the neighboring Palestinian villages.

But Israel strongly rejects accusations by international and local human rights groups that the settlement project has yielded a system of apartheid.

Data collected by the Israeli authorities show a tendency to expand the Israeli presence.

In the area fully controlled by Israel in the West Bank where most of the Jewish settlements are located, the area referred to as Area C under the Oslo peace agreements of the 1990s, only 33 building permits for Palestinians have been approved in the past five years. , the deputy minister said Israeli defense Alon Schuster during a plenary session of the Knesset in February.

During this period, more than 9,600 housing units for Israeli settlers were started in the West Bank, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.

Palestinian Mahmoud Bisharat, 40, said he did not expect anything from Biden’s visit. However, he told Reuters he hoped the US administration would take stronger measures to stop Israeli settlement activities and stop “expropriating the Palestinians”.

He added that they lived in this country before 1967 and the least is the protection of their rights.

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