U.S. presses Israel to keep promise on border crossing
The U.S. has been pressing the Israeli government to uphold a commitment it made to President Biden to ease travel delays for Palestinians across the main border crossing between the occupied West Bank and Jordan, three senior Israeli officials tell Axios.
Why it matters: Biden announced during his visit to the region last month that Israel had agreed to facilitate 24/7 access for Palestinians to the Allenby Bridge by Sept. 30. But senior Israeli officials expect to miss that deadline.
- The bridge is currently closed between 11:30pm and 8am Sunday to Thursday, and closes at 3:30pm on Friday and Saturday. Palestinians have had to wait many hours or even days to cross during a recent period of heavy travel.
Behind the scenes: Since Biden’s trip, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides has been pushing the Israelis to implement the policy, and he even visited the bridge himself.
- During the visit, Nides asked representatives of the Israel Airports Authority, which manages the bridge, whether the border crossing would be ready to operate 24/7 by Sept. 30 and was surprised when the answer was no, the Israeli officials say.
- Nides and other U.S. Embassy officials contacted Transport Minister Merav Michaeli and her team and stressed that the Israeli government should make good on its commitment to Biden.
- Michaeli and her team replied that they would try, but it was unlikely to happen due to a shortage of qualified workers — and added that the Transport Ministry never committed to the Sept. 30 deadline.
What they're saying: The situation created tensions between the Transport and Defense ministries, the former blaming the latter for agreeing to the deadline and the latter blaming the former for failing to meet it.
- “The Ministry of Defense gave empty promises to the U.S. without asking us," a senior Transport official told Axios.
- “The minister of transportation was happy to tweet about this agreement but now nothing is ready," a senior Defense official said.
- Both ministries acknowledge that the issue has been a diplomatic embarrassment for Israel with the Biden administration.
A State Department spokesperson said the Biden administration "supports creating a more autonomous, efficient and reliable Palestinian experience of traveling abroad."