Israel has announced a series of what it describes as goodwill measures towards the Palestinians as Joe Biden embarks on his first visit to the Middle East as US president.
The steps include the approval of the registration of 5,500 stateless West Bank Palestinians; an additional 1,500 permits for residents of Gaza to work in Israel; and the opening of a new crossing in the northern West Bank to allow Israeli Arabs to enter Jenin.
The Palestinians are demanding Mr Biden call for a full freeze in Israel’s West Bank settlement construction.
With Israel facing a new election in November, Washington realises that that there will be no steps to renew peace talks at this juncture and the Biden administration has also rejected Palestinian demands to reopen the US consulate in east Jerusalem, the de facto US embassy for the Palestinians, which was closed down by former president Donald Trump.
Mr Biden will arrive in Israel on Wednesday afternoon as part of a regional trip, accompanied by secretary of state Antony Blinken and, after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, will travel directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia on Friday.
The visit to Riyadh is the most important part of the trip for Mr Biden, who will be hoping to reset relations with crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom he previously denounced as a pariah, as part of his efforts to reduce global oil prices.
Air defence alliance
For Israel, the priority is the effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions but, despite earlier reports, it now seems there will be no announcement of an air defence alliance between Israel and Arab countries during Mr Biden’s visit. Several Arab countries cited as prospective members – including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – are disinclined to enter into a formal alliance of that kind with Israel, despite ongoing security and intelligence co-operation aimed at curbing Teheran’s regional influence.
Mr Biden said the fact that he is flying directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia, even though the countries do not have diplomatic relations, is a sign of the “budding relations and steps towards normalisation”.
Although a number of Arab states, such as the UAE and Morocco, established diplomatic relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords, brokered by Mr Trump, Riyadh continues to link progress with the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Israel hopes that a number of steps towards normalisation will be announced during Mr Biden’s trip to Riyadh, such as permission for Israeli planes to fly over Saudi Arabia.
Israeli ministers attending Wednesday’s welcoming ceremony at Ben-Gurion airport have been notified that Mr Biden will not shake hands with anybody and that no selfies will be allowed.