The presidential visit to the US’s strongest ally in the Middle East will last less than 48 hours and include several blatant snubs aimed at distancing Israel while exhibiting the Biden administration’s belief that “Palestine” is the dominant political entity in the region. This will be Biden’s tenth visit to Israel but his first as president.
Biden’s visit will begin on Wednesday morning at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, where he will be greeted by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog, with Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett possibly speaking as well. But rather than an auspicious affair that is usually held for visiting dignitaries, the event will be rather subdued, as per Biden’s request. Some speculation about the unusual condition suggests that the heat may be a factor as Biden is 79 years old.
Others suggest that his concern was over impromptu grandstanding, such as what took place during Trump’s airport ceremony when MK Oren Hazan jumped in for a selfie with the president.
But in addition to snubbing Israeli officials, a previously scheduled tour of Israeli security systems with Defense Minister Benny Gantz at Palmachim air force base in central Israel will now also be held at Ben Gurion Airport.
The White House has also informed the Prime Minister’s Office that due to concerns about COVID-19, Biden will not shake hands with Israeli ministers or MKs who greet him upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday.
After that, Biden scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem for a brief tour. Citing unnamed sources, Channel 12 News reported Monday that this stop had not yet been locked in.
A Gala Evening in honor of the president’s visit on Tuesday evening will be attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides and Mayor of Jerusalem Moshe Lion.
On Thursday morning, Biden will hold a meeting with Lapid, after which the two will deliver statements to the press. This will be followed by a meeting with Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel. Biden will hold a short meeting with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. This was added to the schedule last month to avoid the perception that the Biden administration was interfering with the Israeli elections that are scheduled for November 1
Biden is scheduled to finish the day by giving an address at the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Jewish Olympic games, though this is also reportedly open to change.
On Friday, Biden is going to visit Augusta Victoria hospital in the eastern section of Jerusalem. The hospital is run by the Palestinian Authority, and the visit is seen as tacit support of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. This will mark the first time a sitting US president has visited a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Axios reported on Monday that Israeli Ministry of Health officials spoke to U.S. officials on Sunday and asked if Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz or a lower-level Israeli health official could join Biden’s visit to the hospital.
“The Israeli officials told Axios that Biden administration officials rejected the request, saying it is a ‘private visit, not a political one,” Axios reported. “The Israeli government didn’t like the U.S. response. A senior Israeli official told Axios that this is a matter of Israeli sovereignty.”
“Also, on Sunday, Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata held a meeting about the U.S. request that Israel give assistance to the Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem. According to Israeli officials, the Israeli Ministry of Health favored and proposed giving $5 million to the hospitals. Officials from the Ministry of Justice and Foreign Ministry also supported the move.”
In 2018, the Trump administration cut $25 million for the hospitals in East Jerusalem as part of a move to slash aid after the Palestinian Authority cut off talks with the Trump administration over its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
At the hospital, Biden is expected to meet with Palestinian civil society activists, according to Israeli officials. Biden is also expected to announce during the visit $100 million in U.S. assistance to the Palestinian hospitals’ network in East Jerusalem, Axios reported on Sunday.
Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg responded, saying, ” We call for the Government of Joe Biden to stop this insult to sovereignty and independence. America does not have many friends across the world, and with Israel has always had a true and loyal partnership.”
Biden will then travel to Bethlehem for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after which he will announce a number of steps that both the US and Israel plan to take to strengthen the Palestinian Authority.
After his meeting with Abbas, Biden will travel directly to Saudi Arabia, where he is scheduled to attend the GCC+3 summit on Saturday with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including representatives from Qatar, Jordan, and Iraq.