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‘Great Zionist’ in ‘israel’ with threats to Iran, Palestine

As US President Joe Biden touched down in Israel to kick off his first trip to the region since taking office, Israel’s military began confiscating 1,480 dunams of lands belonging to Palestinians north of the occupied West Bank.

Biden opened his first visit to the region since taking office by offering anxious Israeli leaders strong reassurances of his determination to stop Iran’s nuclear energy program, saying he’d be willing to use force as a “last resort”.

His comments, broadcast Wednesday, came in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 taped before he left Washington.

Asked about using military force against Iran, Biden said, “If that was the last resort, yes.”

He said he would not remove Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps from the US list of so-called terrorist organizations, even if that meant wrecking the Iran nuclear deal for good.

Biden made reviving the Iran nuclear deal, brokered by Barack Obama in 2015 and abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018, a key priority as he entered office. Biden said Trump made a “gigantic mistake” by withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal.

But talks for the US to reenter the deal have stalled as Biden has stuck to his predecessor’s tactics, piling up on the sanctions and refraining from giving guarantees that Washington would not abandon the deal again.

Biden’s visit to Israel follows the collapse of a coalition-led regime headed by Naftali Bennett.

The US president was welcomed by Israeli caretaker PM, Yair Lapid, former PMs Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli president Isaac Herzog.

Both Herzog and Lapid spoke briefly at the arrival ceremony.

“This trip is your journey of peace from Israel to Saudi Arabia, from the Holy Land to the Hejaz,” said Herzog at the welcoming ceremony.

Lapid hailed Biden as a “great Zionist” and one “of the best friends Israel has ever known.”

“You once defined yourself as a Zionist. You said that you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist, and you were right. And in your case, a great Zionist,” Lapid said.

The 79-year-old was then to be briefed by the occupying regime’s military on the US-backed Iron Dome missile system which Ukraine this week dismissed as inefficient against Russian missiles and the new Iron Beam anti-drone laser system.

Upon disembarking from US Air Force One, which arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, Biden said he did not think a Palestinian state was likely happen in the near future.

Israeli military bulldozers began plowing lands belonging to four Palestinian villages – Jaloud, Qaryut, Turmusaya and al-Mughayer – between Ramallah and Nablus.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which house more than 600,000 settlers, are viewed by Palestinians as a major obstacle to their future state and lasting peace between Jews and the Palestinians.

Speaking at the arrival ceremony, Biden said he did not expect a Palestinian state to be achieved soon.

Ahead of his arrival, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem launched a campaign seeking to turn Biden’s attention to the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories. The group put up billboards and digital screens in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, stating: “Mr. President, this is apartheid.”

“Without constant backing by the US, Israel would not have been able to politically, geographically and demographically re-engineer the area under its control; to impose military rule over millions of subjects and deny them rights for 55 years; to annex East Jerusalem (al-Quds) to its sovereign territory; or to systematically discriminate against its Palestinian citizens,” B’Tselem said in a statement released on Wednesday.

“The US must acknowledge that the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is governed by an apartheid regime, and change its attitude to Israel accordingly,” said the group’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, made the controversial decision to unilaterally recognize al-Quds as Israel’s so-called capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv in May 2018.

Palestinians view occupied East al-Quds as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and view the US embassy move as evidence Washington supports Israel’s de facto annexation of the city.

Biden has not reversed Trump’s decision, and was to press ahead with plans to build a new US diplomatic compound on land that was confiscated from Palestinians using the 1950 Israeli Absentees’ Property Law, as archives revealed earlier this week.

Lapid and Biden released a joint statement on Wednesday morning announcing the start of a series of strategic cooperation agreements that would be signed during the visit.

On Thursday, the president will hold a joint press conference with Lapid, who took charge last month following the collapse of Naftali Bennett’s regime. He will also meet former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden will travel to the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on Friday for a brief stop to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The meeting comes following the murder of veteran Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11, who was killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

Several investigations by The Washington Post and The New York Times, as well as international bodies and the United Nations concluded that Israeli forces had likely killed Abu Akleh, who was also a US citizen.

Her family wrote a letter to Biden, accusing him of “betrayal” and “failing to meet the bare minimum expectation held by a grieving family”.

The trip will culminate on Friday afternoon with a visit to Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah to attend a summit with Persian Gulf countries, in which Biden will push for increased oil production in an attempt to control spiraling fuel costs and inflation in the US.

Biden has defended his decision to visit Saudi Arabia, despite previously calling for it to be made a “pariah” state and issuing vocal criticism of the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Writing in The Washington Post, the newspaper Khashoggi wrote for before he was murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in 2018, the president made no reference to Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, who was named in the intelligence report as having approved the killing.

Biden will become the first president taking a flight from Israel to the coastal city of Jeddah on Friday.

“That travel will also be a small symbol of the budding relations and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world, which my administration is working to deepen and expand,” he wrote.

In 2020, the Trump administration brokered normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Israel hopes Biden’s visit will help kickstart the process of normalizing ties with Saudi Arabia. Although Riyadh does not officially recognize Israel, ties between the two fabricated entities have been warming in recent years and diplomacy has frequently been conducted in secret.

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