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PA foreign minister says Biden administration ‘weak,’ lacks courage in Middle East

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister on Thursday attacked the Biden administration as weak and passive in the Middle East, as violence between Israel and the Palestinians surges to its highest levels in nearly two decades.

The comments by Riyad al-Malki reflected the Palestinian frustration with US President Joe Biden, who initially won plaudits from the Palestinians when he rejected the Trump administration’s unabashedly pro-Israel stance. But Biden so far has done little to follow through on that vision.

“I’m frustrated,” Malki told members of the Foreign Press Association, an organization representing international media outlets in Israel and the Palestinian territories. “It seemed that [Biden] wanted to change all policies Trump has taken, but not when it comes to Palestine.”

Pressured by Israel’s government, increasingly isolated in the Arab world and running out of money, the PA is confronting what analysts say could be its greatest threat to its existence.

Malki said the Biden administration has been mealy-mouthed about the expansion of Jewish settlements and the escalation of Israeli military raids in the West Bank that have killed a growing number of Palestinians.

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Tensions have remained high in the West Bank, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank that have killed 25 people since the beginning of the year.

File: A flag of the United States flies outside the then-US consulate building in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 162 West Bank Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year — most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.

Malki also lashed out at Biden’s failure to reverse several measures taken by the Trump administration that Palestinians saw as undermining their quest for statehood.

“We have a weak [US] administration when it comes to Palestine,” he said.

The US has not reopened its consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, which was closed under former US president Donald Trump. The PA’s diplomatic mission in Washington, also closed under Trump, remains shuttered. The US State Department also hasn’t rescinded a Trump administration decision to grant legitimacy to Israeli settlements or reversed other policies that broke with long-standing US positions on Jerusalem.

“We re-engaged with the administration hoping that they would have the strength and the courage to move forward,” Malki said. “They did not.”

Malki acknowledged he had no hope for long-stalled peace talks to resume under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition, which includes far-right parties openly hostile to the PA.

In the absence of American attempts to play peacemaker in the region, the Palestinians have considered involving China as an alternative diplomatic power on the world stage, he said.

File: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) shakes hands with China’s President Xi Jinping after a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 14, 2023. (Jade Gao/Pool/AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing earlier this summer to discuss the pursuit of a two-state solution to the conflict.

“If peace talks happen in the future, which I doubt, why not include China?” Malki said. “China is giving signals they want to help.”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is pushing for the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, dispatching his national security adviser to the kingdom last week for talks with the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The opening of diplomatic relations between Israel and other Gulf Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in 2020 enraged Palestinian leaders and put them on the defensive politically.

Malki expressed hope that Saudi Arabia wouldn’t follow suit in brokering a deal that would boost Israel’s standing in unprecedented ways.

“I hope that the Saudis… will not yield to any kind of pressure or intimidation coming from the Biden administration,” he said.