Biden moving too slow on pushing peace: Palestinian minister

AP , Thursday 20 Jan 2022

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki criticized U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday for moving too slowly to reverse all of the Trump administration's adverse policies against the Palestinians and not using Washington's special relationship to pressure Israel to abandon "its rejection of a two-state solution and peace negotiations.''

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki
File Photo: Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki speaks during a press conference at the International Criminal Court, May 22, 2018. AP

Malki told the U.N. Security Council there were hopes that the end of Donald Trump's administration and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government "would be enough to pave the way for renewed momentum for peace.''

But while the Biden administration reversed several ''unlawful and ill-advised" Trump policies, he said it has been slow to act, especially on the U.S. commitment to reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem which would restore Washington's main diplomatic mission for the Palestinians in the contested city.

After Biden took office a year ago, the Palestinians thought the United States "could try to move the Israeli position toward us,'' Malki told reporters later. "But we have seen that the Israeli position has been able to move the American position a little bit towards them -- and this is really what troubles us very much.''

The U.S. "has yet to ensure the current Israeli government renounces its colonial policies and abandons its rejection of the two-state solution and peace negotiations,'' Malki said. "This is an unacceptable stance that should neither be tolerated nor excused and must be reversed.''

Biden won initial but cautious plaudits from Mideast analysts when he rejected the Trump administration's unabashedly pro-Israel stance and tentatively embraced the Palestinians by restoring aid and diplomatic contacts. Yet the Biden administration has also retained key elements of Trump's policies, including several that broke with longstanding U.S. positions on Jerusalem and the legitimacy of Israeli settlements that the Palestinians and the United Nations say are illegal.

Malki said he had "a very open, frank discussion'' earlier Wednesday with U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, including on U.S.-Palestinian relations, the peace process, Palestinian expectations from the U.S. and ``what they are trying to do in the near future in order to see things moving forward in the right direction.''

He said the Palestinians are engaging with the U.S. administration about possible ways to eliminate restrictions imposed by Congress on reopening the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.

Tor Wennesland, the U.N. Mideast envoy, told the council that six Palestinian men were killed by Israeli security forces, another died in unclear circumstances, and 249 Palestinians were injured, including 46 children., in the West Bank in the past month. He said 15 Israelis were injured in attacks by Palestinians.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan accused Malki of making "regurgitated accusations and baseless claims,'' and of ignoring the more than 200 "terror attacks'' carried out by Palestinians against Israel in the last month.

These included 143 rock-throwing attacks, Erdan said as he held up a large rock, as well as 20 attacks using grenades and Molotov cocktails.

Malki called on the Security Council to take urgent action to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and save the two-state solution, pointing to Israel's accelerated settlement construction, demolition of Palestinian homes, confiscation of Palestinian land "and even annexing Palestinian land.''

"Absent this sense of urgency, prepare yourself than to attend the funeral of this solution, with all the consequences of such a death for the lives of millions of people, Palestinians and others,'' Malki warned.

"The Palestinian people will survive, but the two-state solution may not,'' he said. "What happens then? Will you convert to advocates of the one-state solution of freedom and equal rights for all between the river and the sea? These would be the only options available then.''

Malki urged support for an international peace conference and echoed Russia's call for a ministerial meeting of the Quartet of Mideast mediators -- the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- "as soon as possible to mobilize efforts to get out from the current impasse.''

He said the U.N., EU and Russia have agreed to a ministerial meeting but "we're still waiting for the approval of the American side.'' He said the three other Quartet members should convince the U.S. about the importance of a ministerial meeting to move the Middle East peace process forward.

Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador, made no mention of the meeting with Malki or the Quartet in her briefing to the council, but she reaffirmed the Biden administration's "strong support for a two-state solution'' and said "this year offers an opportunity to recommit to reaching a political solution to the conflict.''

The U.S. envoy, who visited Israel and the West Bank in November, reiterated that Israel and the Palestinians ``are locked in a spiral of distrust.''

"Israelis don't believe they have a partner for peace, while Palestinians are trapped in despair born of the complete absence of a political horizon,'' she said.

To make progress, Thomas-Greenfield said both sides must refrain from unilateral steps that increase tensions and undercut efforts toward a two-state solution.

That means Israel should refrain from annexing territory, settlement activity, demolitions and evictions "like what we saw in Sheikh Jarrah,'' the Jerusalem neighbourhood where Israel on Wednesday evicted Palestinian residents from a disputed property and demolished it, and Palestinians should stop inciting violence and compensating individuals imprisoned "for acts of terrorism,'' Thomas-Greenfield said.

Israel's Erdan accused the Security Council of "hypocrisy'' and said when the world and the council, in particular, applies its "moral compass correctly, then we may well find the path to peace.''

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