US President Joe Biden’s motorcade no longer had Israeli flags on it during a visit to a Palestinian hospital in east Jerusalem on Friday, despite his assurances that the stop is not a statement about Israeli sovereignty in its capital city.
The Biden administration refused to allow Israeli officials to accompany him on the visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital.
“Biden’s visit to east Jerusalem without official Israeli accompaniment is a destructive move towards Israel, even if it was done with smiles and handshakes,” commented Religious Zionist Party MK Orit Struck. “Biden knows very well that would never be allowed in Washington by a foreign leader and understands how much that hurts Israel’s national pride, doing it in Jerusalem.”
Spoken and unspoken signals
That rejection was seen by many in Israel as signaling that he does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in that part of the city. However, when asked at a press conference on Thursday whether that is how the situation should be understood, Biden said no.
"Today’s pictures of his 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."World Likud Chairman Danny Danon
In the White House statement about his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which took place after the hospital visit, “President Biden reiterated the US position that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that it continues to be the policy of the United States that the specific boundaries of Jerusalem must be resolved through final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”
While official US policy recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, @POTUS visited east Jerusalem & removed Israel’s flag from his official limo—a signal of division undermining Israel’s sovereignty over J’lem. This is not how we should treat Israel. Ever. https://t.co/PyaGR16Mtz— Senator Bill Hagerty (@SenatorHagerty) July 15, 2022
Yet, the flags on “the Beast,” the US president’s armored vehicle, sent a different message about Jerusalem’s municipal borders.
The Beast had an American and an Israeli flag on it for Biden’s earlier stops, as can be seen in a video of him pulling up to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Thursday.
However, as Biden arrived at the Augusta Victoria Hospital, the Beast had two American flags on it, apparently signifying that he does not want to make a statement as to whether the site, near the Mount of Olives, is Israeli or Palestinian.
Biden’s car had American and Palestinian flags on them during his visit to Bethlehem.
“From the start it was clear that [Biden], the first sitting US president to visit symbolic Palestinian Authority institutions in east Jerusalem, was signaling that Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem was in question.” said World Likud Chairman Danny Danon in a statement on Friday. “Today’s pictures of his 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.”
On this, I say to the president: President Biden, this move only spreads false hopes and sows discord instead of peace. 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.”
Diplomatic tension over borders and consulates
The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2018, without delineating municipal borders. Biden said he would maintain that recognition.
The Biden administration has also sought to reopen the US consulate to the Palestinians, which was located in western Jerusalem and was turned into a unit of the US Embassy to Israel after the Trump administration recognized the capital. However, Israel has refused to authorize the move.