U.S. secretary of state tells Israeli leaders that creation of Palestinian state is key to lasting stability
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday urged Israeli leaders to avoid harming civilians as it presses its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and told them the creation of a Palestinian state was key to a long-term solution.
Speaking at a news conference after talks in Tel Aviv with Israeli leaders Tuesday, Blinken said the United States believes South Africa’s genocide charge against Israel is “meritless,” but the daily toll of war on civilians in Gaza is far too high.
Blinken said Palestinians must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow and cited an agreement on a plan for the United Nations to carry out an assessment mission in Gaza. He said the United States rejected any proposals advocating a resettlement of Palestinians outside Gaza.
Blinken, who visited several other countries in the Middle East this week, also said that many countries in the Middle East are ready to invest in the future of Gaza, but only with a clear pathway to a Palestinian state.
Blinken criticizes settlement expansion
He said Israel needs to support Palestinian leaders “who are willing to lead their people living side-by-side in peace with Israel,” an apparent reference to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in some areas of the occupied West Bank.
“And Israel must stop taking steps that undercut Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves effectively,” Blinken added, criticizing impunity for violence committed by extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank, as well as settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions.
Blinken has said a revitalized PA should ultimately take charge of Gaza if and when Israel achieves its goal of eliminating Hamas, which has run the enclave since 2007.
WATCH | Blinken talks about the path to peace in Gaza:
Blinken talks about path to peace in the Israel-Hamas war
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says both sides are going to have to make tough decisions to break the cycle of violence, but other countries he’s spoken to in the region on his week-long trip are willing to support a solution that leads to the creation of a Palestinian state.
“The Palestinian Authority also has a responsibility to reform itself, to improve its governance,” Blinken said, adding he would raise those issues with PA President Mahmoud Abbas when the two meet in Ramallah on Wednesday.
Blinken was making his fourth visit to the Middle East since the war between Hamas and Israel erupted in October.
Even as he spoke, fighting was intense in south and central parts of the enclave. Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants also exchanged fire on the Lebanon-Israel border.
Fears of spreading war
International concern has mounted over the huge Palestinian death toll from the Israeli assault on the densely populated enclave, along with the humanitarian crisis afflicting hundreds of thousands of people.
The U.S. and other countries are also anxious to prevent the war from spreading through the Middle East.
The Israeli air and ground assault has now killed 23,210 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, and has obliterated large areas, from Gaza’s north to south.
Blinken repeated the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself and to prevent a repeat of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on southern Israel, during which 1,200 people were killed and about 240 were taken hostage.
The attacks triggered Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which only paused briefly near the end of November when some hostages were freed in exchange for the release of dozens of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Blinken met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Tel Aviv’s Kirya military base, and then with Netanyahu’s war cabinet.
The U.S. diplomat stressed “the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
Defence minister says southern offensive will ‘intensify’
Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas, which rules Gaza and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told Blinken that Israel’s offensive in Gaza’s southern Khan Younis area will “intensify and continue until Hamas leadership is detected and Israeli hostages return home safely,” according to an Israeli Defence Ministry statement.
As well as trying to contain the war, Blinken has been discussing plans for future governance of Gaza when the war eventually ends.
WATCH | Blinken returns to Middle East as fears of wider conflict grow:
Blinken returns to Middle East as fears grow of wider conflict
As the Israel-Hamas war enters its fourth month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is again pushing to keep the violence from spreading. Blinken’s latest trip to the region comes as Israeli airstrikes kill two journalists among others in Gaza, as well as several people in the occupied West Bank.
In the meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken “reiterated the need to ensure lasting, sustainable peace for Israel and the region, including by the realization of a Palestinian state,” the State Department spokesperson said.
In the days before his Israel visit, Blinken held talks in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, focused on seeking a longer-term approach to the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict.
He said Washington’s Arab allies wanted closer relations with Israel but only if that included a “practical pathway” to a Palestinian state.
Talks on Palestinian state collapsed years ago
U.S.-brokered talks on a Palestinian state in territory now occupied by Israel collapsed almost a decade ago. Right-wing leaders in Israel’s current ruling coalition oppose Palestinian statehood.
With U.S. support, Israel established diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020 and was working to do the same with Saudi Arabia until the Gaza conflict broke out.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, speaking on Tuesday at a conference in Qatar, cited Israel’s normalization of regional relations with Arab states “at the expense of the Palestinian cause” as one of the reasons for the Oct. 7 attacks.
LISTEN | Blinken to tour Middle East as tensions rise across region:
Power and Politics42:42Blinken to tour Middle East as tensions rise across region
Jan. 4, 2024 – As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to the Middle East for the fourth time since the Israel-Hamas war began, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute Randa Slim says the risk of an actor in the Middle East making a mistake that leads to all-out regional war is growing. Plus, The Toronto Police Service says its hate crime unit is investigating a fire at a Jewish-owned grocery store that was also spray-painted with the words “Free Palestine.” Power & Politics speaks with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
After weeks of U.S. pressure to ease its assault, Israel says it was moving from full-blown to more targeted warfare in northern Gaza while maintaining intensive combat in southern areas.
It said that since Monday, its troops had killed around 40 Palestinian fighters and raided a militant compound and tunnels in Khan Younis, the main city in the south. It said nine Israeli soldiers had been killed, mostly in engineering units tackling tunnels, one of their deadliest days of the ground assault.
The Health Ministry in Gaza said 126 Palestinians had been killed and 241 wounded in the previous 24 hours.
Health system collapsing, WHO co-ordinator says
Sean Casey, World Health Organization Emergency Medical Teams co-ordinator in Gaza, said the health system was collapsing fast. He accused Israel of denying access to more of Gaza for relief trucks.
“Every day we line up our convoys, we wait for clearance, and we don’t get it — and then we come back and we do it again the next day.”
Medical staff and patients were fleeing, including an estimated 600 patients from one facility, and 66 health workers were in detention. Only about a third of Gaza’s hospitals, all in southern and central Gaza, are even partially functional, he said.
Casey said many staff at the main Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis had fled to shelters in the strip’s southernmost tip, leaving just one doctor for more than 100 burn victims.
The conflict has rippled to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah militia has been firing rockets into Israel in support of Hamas. Both groups are supported by Iran, Israel’s sworn enemy.
Three members of Hezbollah were killed on Tuesday in a strike in the south of Lebanon, two sources familiar with the group’s operations told Reuters, after a Hezbollah commander was killed in the area on Monday.
Hezbollah said it had deployed explosive drones against an army base in northern Israel in response to the killing of senior Hezbollah figure Wissam Tawil, and that of deputy Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut last week.
Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem said in an address his group did not want to expand the war from Lebanon, “but if Israel expands [it], the response is inevitable to the maximum extent required to deter Israel.”
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the assassinations. The army said an unspecified northern base had experienced an aerial attack without damage or casualties.
Israel’s Gallant said it was preparing “military alternatives” should diplomatic efforts fail to address the escalation along the frontier with Lebanon.