Biden announces facilities for Palestinians at the Allenby border crossing, in addition to other measures

US President Joe Biden will announce plans to facilitate access to the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, along with a series of other initiatives aimed at strengthening Palestinians during his visits to East Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Friday.

Facilitating access to the Allenby Crossing and the other six steps Biden will announce are measures that the U.S. has been pushing Israel to implement for months, while the U.S. seeks to bolster Ramallah’s reputation, despite the lack of diplomatic prospects and what some consider to be Palestinian Authority. President Mahmoud Abbas’ fragile fist over power.

Palestinians complain that steps to improve quality of life are a fig leaf without diplomatic progress towards a two-state solution. Biden angered many Palestinians on Wednesday when he dismissed the prospects of a Palestinian state as unrealistic in the short term.

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However, a Palestinian official acknowledged that the seven announcements were more than the PA expected.

Many confidence-building measures require Israeli follow-up, including many initiatives to which Israel was orally committed last year and were never completed. Its implementation could depend on the outcome of the November 1 election, the fifth round of elections in almost four years, as it could lead to the return of a hard-line government that seeks to marginalize the Palestinians.

The White House said Biden would make the remarks during a visit to Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem and a meeting with Abbas in Bethlehem on Friday morning.

It will reveal that Israel has agreed to allow 24/7 access to the Allenby Crossing, instead of the current opening hours, from 08:00 to 23:30 during the week and from 08:00 to 15:30 on weekends . The crossing is used almost exclusively by Palestinians, who find it much more difficult to obtain permits to travel from Ben Gurion Airport. Consequently, most travel to Amman and then have to pay a series of additional fees and often wait a few hours to cross.

US President Joe Biden during a welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, July 13, 2022, during his first official visit to Israel since becoming President of the United States (Sraya Diamond / Flash90)

A working group will also be set up by Israel to determine whether biometric passports can be accepted at the intersection to expedite work; The White House said the group would report its findings to the United States within a month. The working group will also “study steps to establish a Palestinian Authority presence at the Allenby Bridge crossing while maintaining Israel’s security considerations.”

This was a central Palestinian claim regarding Allenby. Israel has agreed to allow Palestinian Authority police officers to work at the crossing as part of the 1995 Oslo Accords, but has not implemented this provision of the agreement.

The US announcement said Israel would only study the proposal. The stubborn former prime minister Naftali Bennett leaked to the Hebrew press that he would not allow such a step when US efforts to pressure Israel on the issue were announced last month.

A bus crosses the Allenby Bridge connecting Jericho to the West Bank with Jordan in 1992 (Flash90)

. Prime Minister Yair Lapid is apparently more open to the idea. He reiterated his support for a two-state solution on Thursday.

Biden will also announce an additional $ 316 million in financial support for the Palestinians in addition to the nearly $ 500 million he has announced in the past year and a half. One hundred million dollars of this amount will come from USAID – subject to congressional approval – and will go to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. Biden will make the announcement when he visits Augusta Victoria Hospital on Friday morning.

First Lady Jill Biden visited Al Tur Medical Center in 2010 and announced a donation of new equipment to the Department of Oncology.

This will be the first visit of a current US president to any place in East Jerusalem other than the Old City, and the visit is likely to satisfy the Palestinians, who consider the area as the capital of their future state.

An Israeli source revealed last week that Israeli officials were trying to join Biden in the visit to ratify Israeli sovereignty over the entire city. Eventually, the United States opposed the request, and a senior administration official explained to reporters on Thursday that it was a “private visit to a private hospital.”

The East Jerusalem Hospital Network is not officially operated by the Palestinian Authority, and the network works with the Israeli HMOs, but it also plays a major role in the Palestinian health care system. A large part of the network’s operating budget comes from the treatment of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the costs of which are borne by the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during his meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on March 27, 2022, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP photo / Jacquelyn Martin, pool)

In addition to the new U.S. funding, the UAE has announced its $ 25 million donation, and many other Gulf states will follow when Biden is in Jeddah for the GCC + 3 Middle East Summit.

The majority of the new US funding – $ 201 million – goes to the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which brings the total aid received by the Biden administration to $ 618 million.

The announcement is likely to anger pro-Israel groups, who accuse the UN agency of continuing the conflict and its officials with anti-Israel prejudice and even anti-Semitism.

In a clear reference to the criticism, the White House said that “UNRWA’s work must be carried out with full respect for the principles of neutrality, tolerance, human rights, equality and non-discrimination.”

To advance ground-level peace-building efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, the administration will announce two new Middle East Partnership for Peace (MEPPA) grants, allocating $ 250 million over five years to Palestinian dialogue and business development programs.

The Peres Center for Peace, based in Israel, will receive $ 2.21 million to “support cooperation and professional exchanges between the Palestinian and Israeli health sectors,” according to the US statement. An organization called Appleseeds will receive $ 5 million “to give young Palestinian and Israeli professionals the opportunity to work together, learn technology and lead.”

The last $ 15 million in financial assistance will support the Palestinians most affected by the high level of food insecurity in Gaza and the West Bank as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A billboard saying “Mr. President, this is apartheid,” posted by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, ahead of President Joe Biden’s arrival in the area, July 13, 2022 (AP / Mahmoud Elean))

Biden will also convey to Abbas Israel its readiness to hold a meeting of the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Economic Committee for the first time since 2009. Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Freij said the committee would meet last November, but not such a meeting. occurred and the White House did not specify a date for when that would happen.

The committee was set up in the Oslo Accords to discuss general economic issues, including wastewater, clean energy and other measures affecting the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has been trying for years to recall the commission, but Israel has largely rejected it.

Meanwhile, Biden announced that Israel had agreed to increase the number of permits for Palestinians in Gaza to work and do business in Israel to 15,500 – from about 14,000 last month.

Finally, Biden will announce that Israel will allow Palestinian cellular service providers in the West Bank and Gaza to connect to 4G networks by the end of 2023 – which Israel promised to do last year.

A Palestinian woman speaks on a cell phone in Ramallah, October 28, 2014. (Hadas Parush / Flash90)

Palestinians in the West Bank are still trapped in largely outdated 3G technology while those in Gaza are using slower 2G connections.

“The Israeli and Palestinian teams will work together immediately to launch the technology surveys, with the aim of launching advanced 4G infrastructure by the end of 2023,” the White House said. This commitment will accelerate digital transformation and further strengthen the interconnectedness of the Palestinian economy.

While many of the gestures Biden announced are ultimately Israeli sisters, a U.S. official said Lapid’s government prefers to distance itself from them, apparently to avoid appearances that could be interpreted as strengthening the Palestinians before the election.

During a press conference Thursday to discuss the trip, the senior U.S. official revealed that Biden had expressed concern about Israeli plans to advance the controversial E1 settlement project.

Critics say construction in E1 will connect Jerusalem with a large settlement east of it, Ma’ale Adumim, while the West Bank is split in two, making the establishment of a geographically adjacent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital almost impossible.

Israel agreed to postpone a meeting on the project scheduled for a few days after Biden’s visit, but quickly rescheduled it to September 12. An official familiar with the matter said Biden had asked Lapid to remove the project altogether, but the prime minister avoided committing to it.

The senior US official told reporters that the E1 project was “very problematic”, but added that the talks on settlements were “very constructive”.

Palestinian and foreign activists set up Bab Al Shams camp with 25 tents in the disputed E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim (Issam Rimawi / Flash90)

Ibrahim Eid Dalsha, who served as an adviser to the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, criticized Biden’s remarks, lamenting that the United States had used most of its efforts to persuade Israel to take a series of economic-related steps. , rather than that political capital to take steps on its own.

“There is a need for more strategic involvement with the U.S. president,” said Dalsha, who is currently the director of the Ramallah-based Horizon Center for Political Studies and Media Communications.

After meeting with Abbas and issuing a joint statement with the Palestinian Authority leader on their shared vision for a two-state solution, Biden will end his visit to the West Bank with a visit to the Church of the Nativity “to “Confirming support for Christians facing challenges across the region,” the senior U.S. official said.

Asked if Biden would address the growing efforts by extremist Jewish groups to control church land in East Jerusalem, the senior official said such issues would be raised in the meetings without going into detail. to go.

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