Jun 15, 2022 - World

Scoop: U.S. asks Israel to avoid actions that could create tensions ahead of Biden visit

Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Photo:

The U.S. asked Israel to refrain from any actions in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem that could create tensions ahead of President Biden’s visit next month, four Israeli, U.S. and Palestinian officials told Axios.

Why it matters: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is frustrated over recent contentious Israeli moves in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and furious about the U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • Abbas has threatened to take retaliatory action against Israel like stopping security coordination, taking steps in the UN or even canceling the recognition of Israel if the situation doesn't change.

Driving the news: Barbara Leaf, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, and her deputy for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, shuttled more than three times between Jerusalem and Ramallah during their visit this week, officials said.

  • Abbas told the U.S. diplomat he wants Israel to stop all its unilateral actions and expects Israel and the U.S. to present some kind of a political horizon for the Palestinians, PLO official and Abbas adviser Hussein al-Sheikh told me.
  • "The U.S. wants the visit to take place in a good atmosphere – different than the one now," said al-Sheikh, who is in charge of Palestinian contact with the Biden administration and met Leaf three times during her visit. "If the Israelis don’t stop their unilateral action the situation deteriorates and becomes much worse."

Israeli officials said Leaf raised the Palestinian demands with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata and other senior officials.

  • Leaf asked Israel to halt actions like home demolitions, evictions of Palestinians and decisions on settlement building, as well as decrease Israeli military operations in the West Bank until after Biden's visit, the officials said.
  • Gantz, Lapid and Hulata told Leaf they will do their best, but explained the domestic political complexities of halting such actions in addition to what they called the operational needs of the Israeli military in order to stop attacks, the officials added.
  • "The Biden administration doesn’t want us to create any crisis in the West Bank.... They want quiet and calm" for Biden's visit, a senior Israeli official told me.

State of play: Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. officials said Leaf, Amr and U.S. ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tried to put together a package of tangible deliverables for the Palestinians ahead of Biden’s visit, scheduled for July 13-15.

  • But they didn't make significant progress on the package because there are not enough meaningful things the U.S. can give and Israel isn’t willing to take any steps with political significance that will be enough for the Palestinians, the officials said.
  • “We need a political horizon. We want to hear President Biden say what his detailed position regarding the two state solution is," al-Sheikh said.
  • The U.S. also asked Israel to allow symbolic presence of Palestinian Authority officials at the Allenby border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan. Israeli officials say they are considering this positively.

What they're saying: A State Department spokesperson said Leaf discussed "how to lay the groundwork" for Biden's visit and continue the U.S.' "long-standing diplomacy with both Israelis and Palestinians to encourage constructive steps to improve the situation on the ground."

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