Joe Biden arrives in Middle East on first trip as US president

US leader will visit Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia during four-day trip.

U.S. President Joe Biden descends from Air Force One
US President Joe Biden descends from Air Force One as he lands for a three-day visit, at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod near Tel Aviv, Israel [Amir Cohen/Reuters]

US President Joe Biden has landed in Tel Aviv in Israel on his first visit to the Middle East in his current role.

Arriving on Air Force One at Ben Gurion airport on Wednesday, Biden was warmly greeted by Israeli officials and, in a speech, described the US’s connection with the country as “bone-deep”.

“You don’t need to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” said Biden in his opening remarks. “The connection between the Israeli and American people is bone deep … I am proud to say that US relations with Israel are deeper and stronger than they have ever been.”

The US leader also reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a speech, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid described Biden as a “great Zionist”.

“Your relationship with Israel has always been personal,” Lapid said, calling Biden “one of the best friends Israel has ever known”.

It is Biden’s 10th visit to the country. His first was in 1973, when he was a first-term US senator from Delaware.

Biden will spend two days in Jerusalem on talks with Israeli leaders, including Lapid and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before meeting Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in the occupied West Bank.

(Al Jazeera)

He will then take an unprecedented direct flight from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – as the kingdom does not recognise Israel’s existence – for talks with Saudi officials and to attend a summit of Gulf allies.

Reporting from West Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker pointed out how Biden’s address did not focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It was very much addressed to an Israeli and domestic audience. It was all about Israel, his long history with Israel and how connected he is with Israel,” she said.

“He did mention that the only solution was the two-state solution but did not mention the Palestinians by name.

“Usually the narrative in the past was that there would be no normalisation with Israel until there was a Palestinian state and sovereignty but it seems we have moved way beyond that these days,” she added.

Israel, which is mired in political gridlock before a November 1 election, says it is raising 1,000 flags across Jerusalem to welcome the US leader, who has not reversed former President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognise the city as the capital of Israel.

Palestinians see occupied East Jerusalem as their capital and before the visit, have accused Biden of failing to make good on his pledge to restore the US as an honest broker in the conflict.

“We only hear empty words and no results,” said Jibril Rajoub, a senior figure in Abbas’s Fatah movement.

Observers say there is no expectation of bold announcements towards new negotiations on Palestinian statehood when Biden meets Abbas in Bethlehem, meaning the visit could merely deepen Palestinian frustration.

“The PA is continuing to bet on the Americans and the delusion that Biden’s visit will present something to the Palestinians,” Palestinian political and civil society leader Khalida Jarrar told Al Jazeera.

“This ensures that there is a large rift between the Palestinian people and their aspirations, and the actions of their leadership.”

The talks will mark the highest level of face-to-face contact between US and Palestinian officials since Trump adopted a number of policies in favour of Israel after taking office in 2017.

The White House spokesman John Kirby said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan misspoke on Wednesday when he told reporters that the United States wished for a Palestinian consulate in East Jerusalem.

Kirby said there was no change in US policy regarding the consulate.

The US wants to reopen its consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, located in the west of the city, which was closed by Trump in 2019.

US-Palestinian ties have also been strained recently by the killing in May of a Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The Al Jazeera journalist was shot by Israeli forces while reporting on Israeli miltary raids in Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

The United Nations has concluded Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli fire, something a Washington review found was likely but said there was no evidence the killing was intentional.

Abu Akleh’s family has voiced “outrage” over the Biden administration’s “abject response” to her killing and accused the US of providing impunity for Israel. They have asked to meet Biden during his trip but the White House has not commented on the request.

Meanwhile, four US Senators have sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, demanding answers about the review of the killing of Abu Akleh.

Democratic Senators Chris Van Hollen, Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin said the review did not live up to Blinken’s call for an independent and credible investigation.

Reporting from West Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said the Palestinian issue was “a footnote” to Biden’s trip, which appeared to be “more about the bigger geopolitics than the Palestinians”.

“He’s not coming with anything concrete when it comes to reviving long-stalled peace talks,” Dekker said.

“What he’s going to do is carry out a historic visit to a Palestinian hospital in occupied East Jerusalem. This is the first time that a US president is going to venture away from the Old City, going further into East Jerusalem.

“He’s going to be announcing about $100m in aid and is going to ask Gulf countries to match this for hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem, but Palestinians will tell you this is really just paying lip service,” she added.

“Palestinians have lost trust in the Americans, not just since the Trump administration but recently also because of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies