September 28, 2022

JERUSALEM – Palestinians expressed their disappointment and anger with the United States on Tuesday, after Washington said it concluded that Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, killed while reporting in the occupied West Bank, was likely shot unintentionally by the Israeli army. lines.

The American conclusion renewed Palestinian allegations that the United States is not acting as a fair mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, days before President Biden’s visit to the region, who did not back down from the Trump administration’s moves that the Palestinians considered harmful to them. Independence hopes.

The State Department assessment, released on Monday, contradicted the official Israeli position that Ms. Abu Akleh, a veteran TV anchor who was shot dead in the city of Jenin on May 11, may have been hit by Palestinian or Israeli fire.

But by emphasizing that she had been shot, and that the fatal bullet was too damaged to be matched with a particular rifle, the US also indicated that it did not expect Israel to bring criminal charges against any particular soldier.

The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the American conclusions “provided the occupying power with a safe way to evade responsibility for the killing of Abu Akleh, using flimsy and weak pretexts.” statement Tuesday.

The Biden administration said it acted independently of Israel and did not exonerate Israel of its involvement.

For years, Palestinians have questioned Washington’s ability to mediate impartially in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing strong US support for Israel at the United Nations and the amount of US financial and military support for Israel, which has been received cumulatively. More American aid than any other country since World War II.

Against this backdrop, the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, including the city where the shooting took place, has shrugged off weeks of US pressure to share the bullet that killed Ms Abu Okla, 51, with Israeli investigators.

But the authority reversed its positions on Saturday and handed over the bullet after US officials argued that a forensic examination might link the bullet to the gun he fired.

The inconclusive results of subsequent testing, and American assertion about the accidental nature of the killings, stirred up a sense of betrayal among Palestinians, and accusations of pro-Israel bias resurfaced in Washington.

The last direct peace talks on ending the conflict faded in 2014, and deep divisions in Palestinian and Israeli societies have hampered efforts to revive them. But the Palestinians argue that Washington is doing little to push Israel back to the negotiating table, or to preserve the viability of a Palestinian state.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that US investigators did not favor the Israelis or the Palestinians. He added that the US analysis of the bullet was based on tests conducted by independent foreign experts, not Israeli ballistics specialists.

“Our goal in this was not to please everyone,” Price said. “Our goal in this was not to please anyone.”

The US intervention came days before President Biden is due to visit Israel and the West Bank, his first as head of state, in which he expects to avoid making major statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It also occurred amid growing Palestinian frustration that the Biden administration had not reversed several moves by President Trump that Palestinians felt were detrimental to efforts to establish a Palestinian state.

Despite promises to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem to the Palestinians, which was closed under Trump, the Biden administration kept it closed after pressure from Israel. The Palestinian mission in Washington, which was also closed under Mr. Trump, remains closed. The Trump administration’s decision to reverse decades of US policy and recognition of legitimate Israeli settlements in the West Bank – which most of the world consider illegal – has not been formally rescinded.

However, some Palestinians had hoped that the Biden administration would at least push Israel to conduct a criminal investigation into Ms. Abu Akle’s death.

But this week, US officials indicated it was unlikely the US government would push for an Israeli trial. The State Department statement on Monday stressed that the United States “has no reason to believe” that Ms. Abu Akle’s killing was “intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances.”

Mr. Price, a State Department spokesman, said the US wanted to see “a degree of accountability” for the killing, and for the Israeli military to implement additional safeguards on civilians in future raids. But pushing the issue of criminal prosecution, Mr. Price said the Biden administration would “not be prescriptive” on the exact form the Israeli investigation takes.

The absence of US pressure reduces the possibility of criminal charges being brought against anyone in any forum.

The IDF’s attorney general, Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi, did not rule out military prosecution, and said she would base her decision on the results of the army’s internal investigation. But so far, Maj. Gen. Tomer Yerushalmi said she was not yet convinced of the need to bring criminal charges.

“Opening a justified investigation when a criminal offense is suspected,” she said. Speech on May 23. “In an intense combative activity like that in Jenin, the death of a person in and of itself does not automatically raise such suspicion.”

The Palestinian Authority, which has accused Israel of deliberately targeting Ms. Abu Akleh, said it would refer the case to the International Criminal Court.

But such a process can take years, and may never lead to a trial. ICC prosecutors began a preliminary examination of the situation in the occupied territories in 2015, but did not launch a formal investigation until 2021. Seven years after the investigation began, they have not opened any cases against Israeli or Palestinian individuals in relation to crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem .

If the prosecution refers a suspect to court for the murder of Ms. Abu Akleh, the case will likely focus on the question of who was the target, and what the shooter believed about the target.

Israel claims that if a soldier kills it, it is a mistake made while shooting a Palestinian gunman. But evidence reviewed by the New York Times during a recent month-long investigation found no evidence of any armed Palestinians near Ms. Abu Akleh when she was shot.

According to international law, combatants in an armed conflict can attack enemy combatants, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, said, “But it is prohibited to intentionally direct attacks against the civilian population,” Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said.

He added that “Sherine Abu Oqla was a civilian.” “Did the shooter know this? The investigation should clarify: Was it a mistake? The decision of a solitary soldier? An order that follows a plan or policy adopted by higher authorities?”

Analysis of previous investigations by the Israeli Military Prosecution indicates that few charges lead to court cases. Hundreds of complaints are filed against Israeli soldiers each year, but most are closed without extensive investigation, and only a small portion reach court, let alone conviction, according to The data was collected by Yesh DinAn Israeli human rights group that monitors the occupation of the West Bank.

Yesh Din said that in 2019 and 2020, the last years for which data was available, 2% of complaints by Palestinians about being abused by Israeli soldiers led to prosecution. At the time, 49 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank, according to data collected by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Israeli government says its military has a strong legal system, adheres to the highest standards and will continue to investigate the killing of Ms. Abu Akleh.

“Professional and moral truth are inseparable from our national resilience,” Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, said Monday in a statement.

“The defense apparatus is committed to revealing the truth,” he added.

Contribute to reporting Mira Novick And the Heba Yazbek from Jerusalem and Lara Jax from Washington.

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