The Israeli flag was notably absent from President Biden’s limousine as he traveled to East Jerusalem Friday morning, a move critics said represented an insult to the Jewish state.
The removal of the Star of David flag — which was first reported by the Jerusalem Post — also undercut the administration’s insistence that Biden’s visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital was not political in nature. The White House made the claim to justify turning down a request from the Israeli government that its officials be allowed to accompany Biden, Axios reported Monday.
Since Biden’s arrival Wednesday, the presidential motorcade had flown the Israeli flag while traveling through Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in keeping with traditional protocol. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, recognized the latter city as Israel’s capital in 2017, and the current administration has not formally withdrawn that status.
On Thursday, the president said he was “honored to be back” in Jerusalem, which he described as the “capital of Israel” during a news conference alongside Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
Later in the presser, Biden was asked about his trip to East Jerusalem, which has long been floated as the potential capital of a future Palestinian state.
“You’ll visit, tomorrow, East Jerusalem, and you won’t be accompanied by an Israeli official,” one reporter said. “Does this represent a change in your administration’s view regarding the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and if East Jerusalem is part of it?”
“The answer to your last question is no,” Biden answered, without elaborating.
Israel captured East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in 1967 and formally annexed it in 1980. Successive governments have insisted that the entire city — sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews alike — is part of Israeli territory and that partition cannot be part of peace talks with the Palestinians.
“Today’s pictures of his [Biden’s] limousine on its way to east Jerusalem, without the Israeli flag that has been flying at its helm until now, highlights the message he is trying to send; that the sovereignty of Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital, is on the table for negotiation,” Danny Danon, a member of the opposition Likud party and Israel’s former representative at the United Nations, said in a statement to the Jerusalem Post.
“On this, I say to the President; President Biden, this move only spreads false hopes and sows discord instead of peace,” Danon added. “Just as no leader would request that Washington or any world capital be divided, so too Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people, will forever remain united.”
“I think @POTUS’ trip to Israel was historic. That doesn’t cover this insult to Israel – removing Israeli flags from the Beast for drive to east Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz tweeted. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. US might not like it but while here, sovereignty should be respected.”
During his trip, Biden has reiterated US support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling it the “best way” to ensure “a lasting negotiated peace.”
“Both states fully respecting the equal rights of their citizens; both people enjoying equal measures of freedom,” he said Thursday. “And any more that takes us further from that outcome — I believe — anything is detrimental to the long-term security of Israel.”
On Friday, the White House said Biden had insisted on the importance of negotiations to create an “independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state” during a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
However, Biden admitted to reporters following the meeting that “the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations.”
“I do believe in this moment, when Israel is improving relations with its neighbors throughout the region, we can harness that same momentum to reinvigorate the peace process between the Palestinian people and the Israelis,” he added.