Palestinians protested against President Biden Friday during his meetings with Palestinian health workers and officials, out of widespread frustration with US support for Israel and the Biden administration’s policies toward Palestinians.
One protest was held in East Jerusalem, where Mr Biden visited a hospital that his government hopes to support with new US funding. A second protest was set to take place Friday in Bethlehem, the West Bank city, where Mr Biden will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Other protests took place in Gaza and the West Bank on Thursday.
On the eve of his visit to Bethlehem, the Biden administration announced $100 million in new funding for several hospitals for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, subject to congressional approval, and $201 million for the United Nations body that assisting Palestinian refugees. It also said Israel had agreed to roll out 4G phone reception in Palestinian-run areas of the West Bank.
The funding was praised by some Palestinian officials, who said it breathed new life into hospitals. But for some Palestinian protesters, these were patchy gestures that did little to advance the prospect of a Palestinian state.
“They left everything else behind,” said Suhaib Zahda, a political activist in Nablus, West Bank, “to ask for 4G?”
Palestinians have long questioned Washington’s ability to mediate neutrally in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing strong US support for Israel at the United Nations and the magnitude of US financial and military aid to Israel, which is cumulatively has received more American aid than any other country since World War II.
Some Palestinians initially saw Mr Biden’s presidency as a welcome relief from the Trump administration. But many now see the Biden administration as a disappointment for its failure to roll back several Trump-era policies.
On Thursday, Biden reiterated his support for the Palestinian state, calling for a “lasting negotiated peace between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people”, and underlining his support for a two-state solution to the conflict. His administration says it has also restored hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to Palestinian institutions that had been cut under Mr Trump.
But after Israeli opposition, it has not reopened the US consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem or the Palestinian mission in Washington, both of which were closed under Mr Trump. It also has not formally revoked the Trump administration’s legitimacy of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal by most of the world.
Mr Zahda, the political activist from Nablus, said Mr Biden’s visit to Bethlehem was a largely empty gesture. “Palestinians view the US as a partner in the occupation, either by funding it or by supporting Israel politically,” said Mr Zahda, 39.
Palestinians’ criticism of the Biden administration has grown recently after the May murder of a Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, in the West Bank. A U.S. government investigation found that Ms. Abu Akleh was probably killed by Israeli fire, but that it was “the result of tragic circumstances” and not an act of intention. The State Department said Washington would not encourage Israel to launch a criminal investigation into an Israeli soldier.
In doing so, the State Department said it was not trying to favor Israel, but it nevertheless angered Palestinians who felt Washington shielded Israel from liability.
Diala Ayesh, a Palestinian lawyer and organizer of protests in Ramallah, said many young Palestinians lost hope for a US government.
“We obviously don’t demand or expect anything from him,” Ms Ayesh, 26, said of Mr Biden. “We had hoped that Abbas would all reject the meeting and spare us and himself the humiliation.”
Another form of protest could also register in international news images.
As his convoy drives through the West Bank on Friday, the president passes large banners that read: “Mr. President, this is apartheid.”
The term, which refers to the racist legal system that ruled South Africa until the early 1990s, is an explosive charge in the debate over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. A small but growing number of Israeli and international watchdogs accuse Israel of practicing a form of apartheid, echoing claims Palestinians have made since the 1960s; the Israeli government condemns it as an unfounded defamation.
The billboards were hung Wednesday by Israeli rights group B’Tselem — which began applying the term to Israeli policy last year — in various locations around Ramallah and Bethlehem.