Sunday, August 14, 2022

Biden says US seeks accountability in Al Jazeera corespondent killing

US President Joe Biden has said that Washington is insisting on accountability for the May killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by in the West Bank.

“The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world,” Biden said on Friday in a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.

The US president made no mention of Israel’s responsibility for the killing of the 51-year-old veteran Palestinian-American journalist on May 11 while she was reporting in the occupied West Bank.

“She was an American citizen and a proud Palestinian,” Biden continued, adding, “I hope that her legacy will inspire more young people to carry on her work of reporting the truth and telling the stories that are too often overlooked.”

The conference was held at the PA’s presidential compound in Bethlehem in the southern occupied West Bank, during Biden’s four-day tour of the Middle East region between July 13-16.

Critics have accused Biden of failing to take steps towards accountability for Abu Akleh’s killing.

Activists, volunteers and journalists put up billboards and large banners of Abu Akleh across Bethlehem ahead of Biden’s visit. Dozens of Palestinians protested about a kilometre away from the PA’s presidential compound.

No questions were permitted from the press after the conference, but about a dozen journalists wore a black t-shirt with Abu Akleh’s face on it in a sign of protest.

A United Nations investigation concluded that the bullet that killed the veteran journalist was fired by Israeli forces.

The Biden administration, however, angered Palestinians when it said earlier this month that State Department had found Israeli military gunfire was “likely responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death but that it was “inconclusive,” and that forensic analysis showed no reason to believe that the shooting was intentional.

Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said Biden’s “statement of intent” on Abu Akleh are part and parcel of favorable US policy towards Israel.

“This is symptomatic of the sense of guarding Israel’s impunity, of preventing Israel from facing accountability in any way shape or form,” Ashrawi told Al Jazeera.

“You had the opportunity, you adopted Israel’s position and that’s it – you are trying to whitewash the situation,” Ashrawi continued, adding, “It’s not just Shireen – it’s all Palestinians. We need to see a sense of justice.”

Speaking in Bethlehem, Biden said his “commitment to the goal of the two state solution has not changed.”

“Two states along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon swaps remains the best way to achieve equal measures of security, prosperity, freedom and democracy for the Palestinians as well as the Israelis,” stated Biden, adding that the “Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that is independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous.”

Despite his statements, Biden has come under criticism for the small amount of time that has been allocated for meetings with Palestinian officials during his visit, as well as his failure to take a strong political stance towards Israel’s continued building of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank which continue to make a two-state solution unviable.

During the Bethlehem press conference, Abbas called for Biden to re-open the US consulate in occupied East Jerusalem, and remove the Palestinian Liberation Organisation from the US’s ‘terror’ list, adding “we are not terrorists.”

He also called for a pushback against “racial discrimination” and “apartheid” against the Palestinian people.

Under Donald Trump, the US government recognised the whole of Jerusalem – including the occupied eastern half – as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In a joint press conference held by Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday, Biden said that his visit to occupied East Jerusalem did not signal a reversal of that recognition.

Trump also recognised Israeli sovereignty over the 1967-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, closed down the Palestinian representative office in Washington, and shut the US consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem. He also cut financial support to the PA and funding to the UN’s refugee agency (UNRWA), among other things.

After the conference, Biden headed to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to fly directly to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the last stop of his Middle East trip later on Friday.

Biden arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, and met both Lapid and President Isaac Herzog.

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