President Biden’s Meeting with Mahmoud Abbas Is about Symbolism, Not Substance

July 11 2022

On his upcoming trip to the Middle East, Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Bethlehem to meet with the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas, as well as the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Ghaith al-Omari examines the implications of the expected tête-à-tête:

Since Biden became president . . . he and his administration have rightly concluded that any major initiative to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict would be doomed to fail given the prevailing political atmosphere among both parties. Thus, while his team took quick action to reverse some of the Trump administration’s departures from traditional U.S. policy—such as reestablishing relations with the PA and resuming aid to the Palestinian people—it has assiduously avoided high-level entanglement.

Abbas is also presumably aware that no specific foreign-policy outcomes will be forthcoming. Accordingly, he may focus on portraying an uncompromising, principled stance to a skeptical—even critical—domestic audience. This likely means reiterating traditional Palestinian diplomatic positions and making specific demands related to U.S.-PA relations, such as reopening the east Jerusalem consulate, reopening the Palestine Liberation Organization representative office in Washington, and asking the United States to stop considering the PLO a terrorist organization. Although PA officials realize that these demands will not be met, they are probably hoping that tough rhetoric will be enough to appease the general public and fend off attacks from Hamas and other opponents.

In short, for both the White House and the PA, President Biden’s visit to Bethlehem is more about symbolism and optics than diplomatic objectives. The meeting itself is the objective, and the more uneventful it is, the more it will be deemed a success.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Joseph Biden, Mahmoud Abbas, U.S. Foreign policy

How the U.S. Is Financing Bashar al-Assad

Due to a long history of supporting terrorism and having waged a brutal and devastating war on its own people, the Syrian regime is subject to numerous U.S. sanctions. But that doesn’t stop American tax dollars from going to President Bashar al-Assad and his cronies, via the United Nations. David Adesnik explains:

UN agencies have spent $95.5 million over the past eight years to house their staff at the Four Seasons Damascus, including $14.2 million last year. New Yorkers know good hotel rooms don’t come cheap, but the real problem in Damascus is that the Four Seasons’ owners are the Assad regime itself and one of the war profiteers who manages the regime’s finances.

The hotel would likely go under if not for UN business; Damascus is not a tourist destination these days. The UN claims keeping its staff at the Four Seasons is about keeping them safe. Yet there has been little fighting in Damascus since 2017. A former UN diplomat with experience in the Syrian capital told me the regime tells UN agencies it can only guarantee the safety of their staff if they stay at the Four Seasons.

What makes the Four Seasons debacle especially galling is that it’s been public knowledge for seven years, and the UN has done nothing about it—or the many other ways the regime siphons off aid for its own benefit. One of the most lucrative is manipulating exchange rates. . . . One of Washington’s top experts on humanitarian aid crunched the numbers and concluded the UN lost $100 million over eighteen months to this kind of rate-fixing.

What the United States and its allies should do is make clear to the UN they will turn off the spigot if the body doesn’t get its act together.

Read more at New York Post

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations