President Joe Biden has spent the end of the week in the Middle East, visiting Jerusalem and Palestine prior to going to Saudi Arabia. Biden told American citizens one of his chief goals for the trip was to secure a promise from the Saudis to produce more oil. With more oil on the market, the president hoped to bring down the price of gas for American citizens.
Biden initially met with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, where the two leaders signed a “Jerusalem Declaration.” This agreement would provide for the “advancing of normalization initiatives of the Abraham Accords” as well as show solidarity between the two nations regarding the development of an Iranian nuclear program.
Biden also pledged a great deal of money to Middle Eastern entities, including $100 million to an East Jerusalem hospital network and $200 million to UNRWA, which provides support for Palestinian refugees. (UNRWA is a United Nations organization, but it is seen as a highly controversial one.)
Shortly after the meeting between Biden and Lapid, a spokesperson for the Iranian military, Brigadier General Abul-Fadi Shakarchi said: “The use of the term force against Iran by the U.S. President and the Prime Miniter of the Zionist entity is a psychological war for which the enemy will pay.”
However, that appears to be the least controversial outcome of Biden’s trip to the Middle East.
Biden appeared to contradict himself in meeting with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Friday. After speaking in tandem with Israel’s prime minister and signing the Jerusalem Declaration, Biden stood alongside Abbas for another press conference. During his remarks, Biden would say: “My background – the background of my family is Irish American. And we have a long history not fundamentally unlike the Palestinian people, with Great Britain and their attitude toward Irish Catholics over the years, for 400 years.” Biden then quoted a Seamus Heaney poem, ending his point by saying that although the poem is written by an Irishman, “it also could fit Palestinians.”
Critics leapt on the remarks, citing what could be seen as insults to two of the United States’ most loyal allies – Great Britain and Israel. Biden’s comparison of the Irish Republican Army (an organization now seen as illegal and a “proscribed terrorist” outfit by Great Britain) and their fight with the English to the squabble between Israel and Palestine regarding a land dispute is hardly a parallel comparison, say critics.
Biden vowed to bring Israel and Palestine “closer together.”
Yet, Biden’s remarks about Israel, Palestine, and the Irish versus Great Britain remarks were shadowed by President Biden’s greeting of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (often referred to publicly as MBS). Biden arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia late Friday, where he went via car to the Al Salam Royal Palace. Upon exiting the limo, Biden “fist-bumped” the Crown Prince.
The White House had already released a statement that due to the upswing in recent COVID-19 cases, the president would not be shaking hands with world leaders.
Critics seized on the move. Even reporters from the White House-friendly Washington Post said that the fist bump inferred an “intimacy and comfort” with Biden that might convey the idea that all is forgiven in the murder of American journalist – and WaPo reporter – Jamal Khashoggi. Fred Ryan, publisher and CEO of the Post, tweeted his disdain about the fist bump, and Peter Alexander, an NBC reporter, shouted out a question regarding Khashoggi to MBS.
Biden said that he confronted MBS regarding Khashoggi’s death and that he “made it clear what (I) thought” about any possible involvement MBS might have had. The Crown Prince told Biden during their Friday meeting that he was not personally responsible for the killing.
Biden was able to secure a promise from the Saudis to increase oil production; however, MBS publicly said that his country does not “have the capacity to produce beyond 13 million barrels (of oil) per day.”
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