U.S. Urges Israel to Avoid Controversial West Bank Moves Ahead of Biden Visit

Assistant Secretary of State Barbara A. Leaf requests that Israel not send soldiers into Area A or demolish homes before the president's visit, while Israel says it is not obligated to do so

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Barbara A. Leaf in Ramallah, in the West Bank, last week.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Barbara A. Leaf in Ramallah, in the West Bank, last week.Credit: Palestinian President Office (PPO)/Reuters
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Barbara A. Leaf, the most senior U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, urged Israel's politicians to refrain from taking steps what would provoke the Palestinians ahead of the president's visit, Israeli sources said.

Leaf, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, is currently in Israel to prepare for U.S. President Joe Biden's visit to the region, scheduled for July.

According to the Israeli sources, Leaf requested that Israel not demolish the homes of Palestinians convicted of terrorism or send its soldiers into parts of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, for example, in order not to inflame tensions that would make Biden's visit more difficult.

Israel, for its part, has not obligated itself to do as Leaf says, and has clarified to her that Israel will not stop processes that will harm its national security. At the same time, Israeli officials estimated that the military, police and security forces will reduce their operations regardless of the U.S. request, as they do during other sensitive events, such as Ramadan, in order to preserve calm.

Israeli officials have clarified that, regardless of Leaf's request, they do not expect discussions at this time about approving construction in settlements, and that the discussion opposing such building – although they are not substantive – will be postponed.

Israeli sources said that the Biden administration is struggling to identify any sort of diplomatic gestures they could make during the president's visit that would appease the Palestinian Authority. Any gestures Israel can offer – like granting more work permits for Palestinians or agreeing to upgrade the West Bank's cellular networks – wouldn't be seen as significant enough.

Senior Palestinian officials said on Wednesday that the U.S. delegation preparing for Biden's visit, of which Leaf is a part, rejected Palestinian calls for peace negotiations, claiming that the political situation in Israel is too sensitive.

The United States did raise the possibility of holding a meeting similar to the Negev Summit last March, but Palestinian officials and Western diplomats told Haaretz that Palestinians rejected the idea of such a summit – unless it is proceeded with a declaration by all parties committing to advancing a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

Hussein al-Shiekh, the secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee said in a meeting with Leaf and Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs, that the Palestinians demand a clear horizon for the summit rather than just general declarations.

Israel has also rejected the U.S. proposal for a summit with the Palestinian Authority. Israeli leaders told the American delegation that it was a bad idea, and that such a move would be viewed as the start of a diplomatic process that has no chance of succeeding – adding that Israel doesn't need an intermediary to speak with the Palestinians and that the two sides are in regular contact.

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