The Biden administration has sidestepped a request for a meeting between the U.S. president and the family of Shireen Abu Akleh, a prominent Palestinian American journalist who was killed while reporting in the occupied West Bank in May.
The State Department has instead invited the family to Washington, according to Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, and Anton Abu Akleh, the journalist’s brother.
The decision risked exacerbating Palestinian anger at the Biden administration, after recent accusations that the United States has tried to shield Israel from scrutiny after Ms. Abu Akleh’s death, and amid wider Palestinian claims that the United States favors Israel.
In an open letter to Mr. Biden before his arrival in Israel on Wednesday, the Abu Akleh family had spoken of their “grief, outrage and sense of betrayal concerning your administration’s abject response to the extrajudicial killing,” and requested a meeting so that the president could “hear directly from us about our concerns and demands for justice.”
For years, Palestinians have questioned Washington’s ability to neutrally mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing strong American support for Israel at the United Nations and the size of U.S. financial and military support to Israel, which has cumulatively received more American aid than any other country since World War II.
Against that backdrop, the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, initially ignored weeks of American pressure to share with Israeli investigators the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh. But the authority reversed its position and handed over the bullet after U.S. officials argued that a forensic examination might link the bullet to the rifle that fired it and therefore help determine who had killed her.
So just days before President Biden’s visit to the region, Palestinian anger rose last week after the United States concluded that Ms. Abu Akleh, 51, was most likely killed by accident — probably by Israeli fire — and said that it would not push Israel to pursue a criminal investigation into any Israeli soldier.
The Palestinian Authority and a number of Palestinians, as well as the journalist’s family, considered the American announcement an attempt to shield Israel from accountability — a claim that Washington denied.
Some Palestinians nevertheless had hoped that the Biden administration might at least push Israel to conduct a criminal investigation into Ms. Abu Akleh’s death. But American officials suggested that the U.S. government was unlikely to push for an Israeli prosecution. A State Department statement stressed that Washington had “no reason to believe” that Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing was “intentional” but that it was instead “the result of tragic circumstances.”
Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said the United States wanted to see “a degree of accountability” for the killing, and for the Israeli Army to introduce additional safeguards for civilians in future raids. But pushed on the question of a criminal prosecution, Mr. Price said the Biden administration was “not going to be prescriptive” about the exact form an Israeli investigation took.
The absence of American pressure diminishes the likelihood of criminal charges being pursued against anyone in any forum.