Biden prefers to avoid physical contact when visiting the Middle East
Ahead of his trip to the Middle East, US President Joe Biden faced a lot of criticism. Now he came to Israel and was welcomed as a “true friend”. During his upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, he wants to avoid physical contact as much as possible – perhaps more than the fear of corona.
BOn his first trip to the Middle East as US president, Joe Biden pledged continued US support for Israel. Biden said Israel’s support for security was “unwavering” shortly after landing at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. “Relationships are deeper and stronger than ever.”
Biden was welcomed by Israeli President Isaac Herzog and new Prime Minister Jair Lapid at a ceremony Wednesday afternoon. “Today the wind of peace blows from North Africa through the Mediterranean to the Gulf,” Herzog said in his welcome speech. However, during Biden’s visit, the threat posed to Israel and its neighbors by Iran and its allies should also be discussed. He said Biden “has been a true friend and staunch supporter of Israel and the Jewish people throughout his life.”
In welcoming Biden, Lapid highlighted the “unbreakable bond” between the two countries. He announced talks of a “new security and economic framework” in the Middle East.
After his visit, Biden was shown the “Iron Dome” missile defense system and other air defense systems. In the evening he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial to remember the victims of the Third Reich’s extermination of Jews. The US president also met with two Holocaust survivors. At the end of the visit, he signed the memorial’s guest book.
Biden: Don’t forget the lessons of history
In his speech, the US president emphasized the importance of fighting anti-Semitism. “We continue our never-ending work to fight the poison of anti-Semitism – wherever it rears its head.” Never forget the lessons of history. “We keep our promise that the Holocaust will never happen again.”
US President Donald Trump was last in Israel in 2017. It was Biden’s first trip to the Middle East since taking office a year and a half ago. “Going to a free Jewish state of Israel,” Biden called.
In the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Biden again advocated a two-state solution. He knows that solution is not currently in sight, Biden said. However, his view is that this is the best way to bring prosperity and democracy to Israelis and Palestinians.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, hailed the latest communications between the Israeli government and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on a flight to Israel. It is “encouraging”. Both parties are requested to build it. However, Biden would not make any formal proposals for a new peace effort. Lapid spoke to Abbas on the phone last week. It was the first direct conversation between Abbas and an Israeli leader.
Biden plans to hold talks with Lapid, Herzog and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem this Thursday. A meeting between Biden and Abbas is scheduled for Friday in the West Bank. The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has been stalled since 2014. No real progress is expected on Biden’s visit.
The hardest part of the journey is still ahead
Biden plans to visit Saudi Arabia on Friday. In Jeddah he plans to meet the kingdom’s leadership and attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit.
There he wants to avoid physical contact as much as possible – because of the corona, according to the White House. “We are trying to minimize contact as much as possible,” said his spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
Reporters speculated that Biden may want to avoid shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who visited Jeddah on Friday. On the other hand, Jean-Pierre insisted that it was a sanitary measure.
Biden is under huge pressure in the US due to a sharp rise in fuel prices – and nearly four months before crucial congressional elections. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest oil producers in the world. Biden now rejects accusations that his travel is subordinating human rights to the demand for cheap oil.
The US president, who has been in office since January last year, has repeatedly defended himself against criticism of his planned visit to Saudi Arabia ahead of his trip. During the 2019 election campaign, Biden vowed to take responsibility in Riyadh for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the government. Khashoggi was killed in an attack on the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in the fall of 2018. US intelligence is blaming Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) – the kingdom’s de facto ruler – for the bloody act.
The Gulf monarchy’s access to the so-called Abraham Accords, under which many Arab countries have established ties with Israel, is currently considered impossible. However, there is speculation that the two countries may work more closely together, for example, on security issues.
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