U.S. President Joe Biden is headed to Bethlehem on Friday, but all eyes are on Saudi Arabia.
And that is really where they’ve been since well before the president arrived in the region on Wednesday.
“Blessed are those who have low expectations for they shall not be disappointed,” Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian political analyst, told ALL ARAB NEWS describing Palestinian expectations from Biden’s visit.
“There are things that will be asked of Biden, but they know he is not coming here for Palestine – or Israel, which has a caretaker government right now. He is going to Saudi Arabia for oil and the Iranian issue,” Kuttab explained.
During the second leg of his trip, which will take place in Jeddah, Biden will meet with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Biden has already stated that normalization between the Saudis and Israel is far off. But rampant speculation is revolving around other aspects of the president’s visit ranging from whether he will make a bid for cheaper oil prices to whether Biden will shake MBS’ hand or give him a fist bump as he did with Israeli leaders.
Last week, National Security Council (NSC) Coordinator for Strategic Communication John Kirby explained that Biden will be “seeing the crown prince in the context of that larger bilateral discussion,” indicating his participation in the GCC Summit that will include Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
Helit Barel, former director at the Israel National Security Council heading the U.S.-Israeli bilateral desk, told journalists in a special briefing that the deliverables from the Israel leg of Biden’s trip have been “modest.”
She also stressed what she said everyone already knew: “Ultimately this visit is about oil.”
‘Whether it will be an effective move and translate to pumps in Los Angeles is another question,” she said.
Biden found a different Middle East than the one his administration left behind, she said.
“Leaving the region left a vacuum and vacuums don’t stay empty,” Barel said noting that Russia stepped into the region as the U.S. withdrew.
She also said that American officials should have known that Saudi Arabia is “not chomping at the bit to do what the U.S. is asking them.”
With all eyes on Saudi Arabia, Palestinians are not anticipating any earth shattering changes at home when Biden visits on Friday.
“Expectations are quite low. They haven’t seen any genuine interest in Palestinians since Biden took over,” Kuttab said. “Biden said he would reverse many Trump decisions but he did not.”
To be certain, relations between this American administration and the previous one are much warmer. But there are specific issues are casting a cloud over the president’s short visit here. For instance, Biden was the chief critic of Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He even called Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “pariah” after U.S. Intelligence claimed MBS ordered the killing.
“But he did nothing on Shireen Abu Akleh,” Kuttab said in reference to the Al Jazeera journalist who was shot and killed during fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in May. Biden was “white washing” her death and “that is upsetting people.”
The United States said that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh – a Palestinian who also held American citizenship – was likely Israeli, not Palestinian, but said it was too damaged to determine which gun it came from.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib – whose family is Palestinian – called on Biden to start an independent investigation into Abu Akleh’s death and to “obtain the names of the soldiers responsible for killing Shireen, along with that of their commanding officer, so that these individuals can be fully prosecuted for their crimes by the Department of Justice.”
“When an American citizen is murdered abroad, it is typically standard procedure for the U.S. to open a criminal investigation.”
She called her death a “targeted assassination.”
Palestinians, already bypassed by Trump who freelanced peace deals between other Arab nations and Israel, hope that Biden will follow through, at least, on his promise to reopen the East Jerusalem consulate for Palestinians.
But they are not expecting the dramatic – at least not here.
“There will be no genuine change on the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Kuttab said, explaining that Americans are unlikely to pressure a caretaker government.