US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has once again stressed the need to calm tensions during his trip to the Middle East. On this occasion, he did so in Ramallah during his meeting with the President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas, with whom he held talks after meeting in Cairo with the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and in Jerusalem with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
As he did in Egypt and Israel, Blinken called for a halt to the escalation of violence and reaffirmed Washington's support for a two-state solution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this sense, the Secretary of State stressed that his country opposes any action that harms this peace process, such as "the expansion of settlements and the demolition of homes".
In Ramallah, together with Abbas, Blinken acknowledged that "the hopes of the Palestinians are diminishing", and that it is necessary to promote measures to change this. The Secretary of State also lamented the deaths of "innocent Palestinians" in recent days and revealed Washington's desire to "strengthen relations with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people". To this end, Blinken announced the US intention to work towards "opening the US consulate in East Jerusalem", as reported by Al-Arabiya.
The Arab media also reports that the US chief diplomat pledged $50 million to the Palestinian Authority and an agreement to provide a 4G internet network to the Palestinians.
Abbas, for his part, prepared a series of requirements to be presented during the meeting. As reported by The National News, these demands include the need to stop Israeli settlements in the West Bank, incursions into Palestinian cities, attacks and violence against Palestinians and the lifting of sanctions imposed by the Israeli government against certain Palestinians.
In this vein, the Palestinian leader accused Israel of undermining peace efforts and not respecting signed agreements. He called on the Israeli government to cease "unilateral actions that violate international law".
On relations with Washington, Abbas said he was willing to "work with the United States and other countries to renew the political dialogue", but also criticised the international community for failing to act in the face of "Israel's unilateral measures".
In recent days, the PA president has received other senior US officials, including CIA Director Williams Burns. During his meeting with Burns, Abbas assured that security coordination with Israel had only been "partially suspended" and "could be re-established".
Following last week's anti-terrorist operation in Jenin in which Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians linked to Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Authority announced that it would suspend security cooperation with Israel. However, Abbas has now indicated that the move was "neither general nor irreversible", Israel's Channel 12 reported.
The secretary of state's trip to the region has coincided with a new wave of tension between Palestinians and Israelis. Following the raid in Jenin, Hamas fired several rockets into Israeli territory and, in response, the Israeli army shelled a Hamas military base in the Gaza Strip. Subsequently, in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian killed seven Israelis in a synagogue. The following day, a 13-year-old shot two Israelis.
Before moving to Ramallah, Blinken met in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, President Isaac Herzog, and opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
I met with Opposition Leader @yairlapid today. I underscored the ironclad U.S.-Israel relationship, our commitment to Israeli democracy & security, & further regional integration. We discussed the two-state solution & the urgent need to de-escalate the situation in the West Bank. pic.twitter.com/nM5Kvsfr7C— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) January 31, 2023
In addition to the US, other countries in the region, such as Jordan and Egypt, are working to bring the new escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians to an end as soon as possible. In this regard, Al Arabiya reports that Cairo will send a delegation to Israel to propose solutions and act as a mediator between Netanyahu's government and the Palestinian Authority. Jordan has also sent intelligence chief Ahmed Hattokai to Ramallah to discuss security issues in the West Bank with Abbas.
Despite the Secretary of State's emphasis on the need to de-escalate tensions and promote understanding during his trip to the Middle East, the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank are critical of his visit and US policy in the region.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have expressed their rejection of Blinken's visit and Washington's proposals for a two-state solution. "We don't see any sense in betting on the US administration, as it has not changed its policies towards the conflict and remains biased in favour of Israel," Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab told Al-Monitor. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem agrees, claiming that visits by US politicians are aimed at "guaranteeing Israel's military success".
Senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah also agreed, saying that Blinken's visit did not bring anything new. "We heard no new ideas or proposals," a Palestinian politician told The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh. "Nor did we hear anything new about our demand that the US administration keep its promises to the Palestinians," he added.
Meanwhile, Fatah deputy head Mahmoud Aloul told Al Quds Al Ekhbariya media that "they could no longer trust US policy" as it "only protects the occupation". Aloul also lamented that the international community "put pressure" on the Palestinian Authority to "go back on its decisions", referring to Abbas's announcement to resume security cooperation with Israel.
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