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Israel and US to sign “historic” Jerusalem Declaration during Biden’s visit

What happened: Israel announced a series of measures for the Palestinians yesterday as part of economic gestures ahead of US President Joe Biden’s arrival later today.

  • Israel has agreed to:
    • Legalise the status of 5,500 undocumented Palestinians and foreigners living in the West Bank and Gaza.
    • Approve six Palestinian housing projects in the West Bank.
    • Increase the number of work permits for Gazans by 1,500 to reach a total of 15,500.
    • Re-open the Salem crossing in the northern West Bank to allow the entry of Israeli-Arabs into the city of Jenin.
    • Delay a meeting to advance 2,000 housing projects for Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem that was scheduled to take place next Monday.
  • Prime Minister Yair Lapid issued a statement yesterday describing President Biden’s visit as an “affirmation of the unbreakable ties between our two countries and the United States’ ongoing commitment to Israel’s security.” Lapid’s statement praised President Biden for repeating the “United States’ solid commitment to preserve and strengthen Israel’s ability to deter its enemies and to defend itself by itself against any threat or combination of threats”.

The itinerary: President Biden is scheduled to land at 15:25 (local time) at Ben Gurion Airport.

  • He will be accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well a large delegation of security personnel and journalists.
  • A welcome ceremony will begin at 16:25 and will include speeches and a guard of honour. From there, Biden will be taken to a special hangar at the airport, where he will be shown Israel’s latest air-defence systems.
  • Defence Minister Benny Gantz will give a 20-minute security review and will speak about Iran’s nuclear programme. Gantz will also speak about regional cooperation and will call for improved security relations.
  • From there, Biden will be taken to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
  • Thursday morning President Biden and Prime Minister Lapid are scheduled to meet one-on-one at 11:00 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem. The two leaders will then hold an expanded meeting with aides, which could be attended by Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
  • At 12:15 President Biden and Prime Minister Lapid are scheduled to hold a joint press conference, and at 13:30 they will hold a conference call with UAE President Mohammad bin Zayed and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • President Biden will meet with President Herzog at 16:15 and at 17:15 with Opposition Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been allotted just 15 minutes. At 17:30 President Herzog will give Biden the Presidential Medal.
  • President Biden is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games at 19:45 and will meet 250 Jewish American athletes.
  • On Friday, President Biden will visit Augusta Victoria Hospital, and later in the day will travel to Bethlehem to meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He is expected to arrive back at Ben Gurion Airport around 13:45 to leave for Saudi Arabia.

Context: The Biden administration will have different objectives when visiting Israel (and the West Bank) and Saudi Arabia, but the purpose of the trip is centred around four issues: energy stability, Ukraine, anti-Iran agenda and returning to the JCPOA.

  • For Israel, it hopes Biden’s visit will strengthen the anti-Iran alliance with regional partners, begin the process of normalisation with Saudi Arabia and deepen its strategic relationship with the US, including deeper technological cooperation.
  • On Monday US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan played down hopes for a breakthrough in ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, despite reports over the last few weeks.
  • According to a senior Israeli official, progress will be made in Israeli-Saudi relations during President Biden’s visit but noted that such progress “depends to a large degree on Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia and what happens there. We won’t know up until the last moment which steps precisely are going to be announced.”
  • Sullivan said Biden would work to deepen Israel’s involvement in the region during his visit, but he refused to confirm whether Saudi Arabia will allow flights to or from Israel to pass through Saudi air space.

Anti-Iran agenda: It has also been rumoured that Biden was due to announce the establishment of a regional defence network to deal with the threat of missiles and UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] from Iran.

  • According to reports, the Americans had planned to announce the alliance at a summit meeting in Jeddah, which is also to be attended by leaders from the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan Egypt and Iraq.
  • However, Israel Hayom noted yesterday that several of the Gulf states objected to any formal announcement, preferring to continue along the current path of security cooperation with Israel in an unofficial capacity.
  • Israel has offered to provide direct air defence assistance to the UAE and drones and anti-drone systems to Bahrain, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
  • Last week Gantz said Israel has sold more than $3bn in arms to the Gulf nations. Seven per cent of Israeli military sales went to Abraham Accords countries in 2021, according to the Defence Ministry.
  • Sullivan also revealed that Iran was planning to send armed drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine.
  • “The Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs, including weapons-capable UAVs, on an expedited timeline. Our information further indicates that Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these UAVs, with initial training sessions slated to begin as soon as early July,” he said.
  • In what appears to be a reaction to the Biden visit, Russian President Vladimir Putin will fly to Tehran next week to hold three-way talks with President Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ergodan.
  • The three leaders are expected to discuss the civil war in Syria, where Iran and Russia have backed Syria while Turkey has supported the last remaining rebel groups holding out in the north of the country.

Looking ahead: President Biden and Prime Minister Lapid will sign a “Jerusalem Declaration” deepening the strategic alliance between the two countries. Senior officials in the Foreign Ministry call this statement “historic”.

  • The document will detail the relationship between Israel and the US in a variety of political, security and economic agreement that have been made over recent years.
  • The declaration includes a US commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity, to maintaining the IDF’s qualitative advantage in the region and a statement that Israel has the right to defend itself against any threat.

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