from Jerusalem to Riyadh: Biden’s mission to a forgotten Mideast
The World Council of Churches appeals to the US leader to do something to end the "growing threats" that endanger the Christian presence in the region. Biden will meet with Lapid, Abbas and Saudi leaders. Ahead of the visit Abbas talked to the pope hoping to raise the profile of the Palestinian question. Despite the Abraham Accords, the oil emergency has overshadowed human rights violations.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – US President Joe Biden has set off on a visit to the Middle East (13-16 July). This is his first trip to the region since he became president in January 2021; hitherto, other crises, in the Asia-Pacific region and Ukraine, have monopolised Washington’s attention.
Ahead of the arrival of the US leader, the World Council of Churches (WCC) released a statement urging urge him to “to listen and respond to the voices of the Churches of the Holy Land”, as they face increasing threats to their future existence in the region.”
Signed by WCC Secretary General Rev Ioan Sauca, the press release bemoans the “ongoing violence, discrimination, ever-expanding Israeli settlements, and subsequent displacement of Palestinian communities, including Christians.”
Such actions “threaten the multi-religious and multicultural identity of Jerusalem and undermine any remaining prospect of a viable two-state solution to secure peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike.” To avoid this, it calls on all “people of good” to “recognize Jerusalem as sacred to three religions and a city of two peoples”.
Biden's mission to the Middle East starts today in Israel, followed by a visit to Ramallah, in the West Bank, finally ending in Saudi Arabia at a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan (GCC+3) in Jeddah.
The agenda of these four days will be charged, beginning with meetings with Israeli leaders at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid is getting the country ready for elections next November, the fifth in less than four years, that might see Benjamin Netanyahu make a comeback.
Biden’s next tête-à-tête will be with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, before the last stage of the trip in Saudi Arabia for meetings with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, shill hampered by accusations of being behind the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In Israel, the Iranian nuclear “threat” against the Jewish State will be at the top of the agenda.
Biden is scheduled to visit the Augusta Victoria Hospital, on the Mount of Olives, East Jerusalem, one of the foremost Palestinian health facilities, which also employs Israeli staff.
The US president will meet his Palestinian counterpart in Bethlehem at which time the US and Israel are expected to announce measures to strengthen and legitimise the Palestinian Authority.
Ahead of the visit, President Abbas spoke with Pope Francis yesterday to discuss the latest developments in the area, like killing of the Christian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and Israeli’s never-ending occupation.
During the conversation, the two leaders talked about tensions over Jerusalem, threats to the status quo at the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif and Israeli restrictions on access to Christian and Muslim holy places.
For his part, the pontiff insisted on the value of peace and dialogue as the only ways for people to live together in the region.
After visiting the Palestinian Territories, Biden will fly to Saudi Arabia for the GCC+3 summit, in many ways the most important part of his trip to the region.
The agenda includes normalising Israeli-Saudi relations, which are very important for Israel, following the Abraham Accords. In return, Riyadh could get the green light to buy US weapons, after sales to the kingdom were put on hold following the Khashoggi murder.
Last but not least, oil is expected to be discussed at the summit. So far the US has failed to get the Saudis to boost production and sales to offset the jump in prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.