“Realpolitik prevailed over justice for journalists” on Biden’s Middle East trip

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores the tepid statements and flagrant lack of political will that marked US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia, which yielded nothing concrete for the quest for justice for murdered journalists Shireen Abu Akleh and Jamal Khashoggi.

Realpolitik once again prevailed over justice for journalists Shireen Abu Akleh and Jamal Khashoggi, and statements were nothing more than luke-warm so as not to offend allies,” RSF’s Middle East desk said. “Joe Biden did mention the two emblematic cases, which he could not ignore, but he did not go far enough with specific requests for investigations to shed all possibe light on their deaths.”

During his visit to Israel on 13 July, Biden did not mention Israel’s responsibility for Abu Akleh’s death in the West Bank on 11 May, although several investigations, including the latest one by the UN Human Rights Office, have concluded that the shot that killed the Al Jazeera reporter could only have been fired by the Israeli security forces.

At a joint press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Biden contented himself with saying that Abu Akleh “was an American citizen and a proud Palestinian” and that “the United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death.” Biden refrained from meeting with members of Abu Akleh’s family, despite their repeated requests, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken has offered to receive them in Washington.

There was some buck-passing during Biden’s meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on 15 July. MBS conceded that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 was “a tragedy for Saudi Arabia” but insisted that the case was now closed. A trial held behind closed doors ended in September 2020 with five defendants being sentenced to 20 years in prison and three others receiving jail terms ranging from seven to ten years.

MBS also denied any responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder, while Biden pointed out that this claim contradicted a CIA report declassified in early 2022. The crown prince, for his part, mentioned the crimes that the Americans committed in Iraq. “These are issues, mistakes that happen in any country, including the US,” added Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan. Biden and MBS then turned to the official subject of their meeting.

The blood of MBS’s next victim is on your hands,” Khashoggi’s widow, Hatice Cengiz, commented in tweet accompanied by a photo of Biden’s “fist bump” with MBS.

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