Joe Biden’s trip to Jerusalem met with ambivalence and optimism

US President embarking on four-day visit to Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia

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Israeli and American flags lined the streets of Jerusalem on Wednesday before US President Joe Biden’s arrival in the region.

The president has said the trip to Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia is to “advance important American interests”.

Writing in The Washington Post on Saturday, he said he hoped to “deepen and expand” relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

On the streets of Jerusalem on Wednesday, his imminent arrival was met with a mix of ambivalence and hope.

At Mahane Yehuda Market, a warren of narrow streets and vibrant food stands nestled on a hilltop, shoppers busily prepared for the day.

“I'm not sure that something radical is going to happen,” said Arie Stavisky. “It's a good thing that he's here.”

The Jerusalem resident, who works in sales, said he hoped the US president would follow through on his pledge to help strengthen ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“[Saudi Arabia] needs us because they know we can help and they need us because we are against the Iranians,” Mr Stavisky told The National. “It's not a matter of falling in love or getting married. OK, it's a matter of interest. That's it, and I think it's going to work.”

Louis Weinrauch shared the hope for stronger ties with Saudi Arabia. “It's very important to join another country, a big country, a strong country,” he said.

But while there is cautious optimism that Mr Biden will help to forge stronger ties between the two countries, there is a feeling that dysfunction within Israeli politics will make any significant progress or achievement difficult.

Israel has had four elections in the past four years and is heading for a fifth in November.

The lack of continuity — and that current Prime Minister Yair Lapid took office only a week ago to serve as a caretaker — mean plans for the future may be put on hold.

“You don't know who's going to be the next one,” said Mr Stavisky. “And by us, things are very flexible. You know, what [happens] in Israel in a day is like a month in America. So we don't know what's going on.”

In addition to meeting Israeli leaders, Mr Biden will meet the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

He has worked to improve relations with the Palestinian Authority after Donald Trump's four years as president.

But while some in Jerusalem welcome the move, there is little hope that relations between Israel and the Palestinians will improve any time soon or that new peace talks are on the horizon.

“I think we need to solve relations between Israelis and Palestinians and none of us are ready for it,” said Gal Herschenboim, a graphic designer. "Maybe it'll be the next generation or two generations. I think it's not going to happen in our time, which is sad.”

Updated: July 13, 2022, 10:44 AM
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