The Guardian / January 31, 2023
US secretary of state says it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to find way to end recent violence.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has finished his Middle East tour with no breakthrough in reducing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, saying that it was “fundamentally up to them” to end the violence after days of bloodshed.
Blinken said he had heard “deep concern about the current trajectory” during meetings in Israel and the occupied West Bank but, beyond calling for a “de-escalation”, he offered no new US initiative.
Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, Blinken said he had heard “some concrete ideas” from Israelis and Palestinians but added: “It is fundamentally up to them. They have to work together to find a path forward that both defuses the current cycle of violence and, I hope, also leads to positive steps to build back some confidence.”
The visit, which included a stop in Egypt, had been long planned but arrived at a critical time, with Israel and Palestine reeling from a round of devastating attacks that threaten an explosion of violence.
An Israeli operation in the Jenin refugee camp last week, one of its deadliest raids in the West Bank for decades, killed 10 Palestinians, mostly gunmen but also two civilians, including a 61-year-old woman. The next day, a Palestinian gunman killed seven Israelis outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem in the worst such attack in recent memory.
Almost two dozen people have been killed over the past week, as heightened tensions have led to retaliatory attacks, including shootings, targeting Israelis and Palestinians.
After meeting the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem on Monday, Blinken travelled to the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday for discussions with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh.
After those meetings, Blinken expressed his “sorrow for the innocent Palestinian civilians who have lost their lives in escalating violence over the last year” – the deadliest in the West Bank for more than a decade.
Expectations that Washington’s top envoy could take the region off the path to more bloodshed were close to zero, with Blinken repeating the US government’s longstanding aspirations for a “two-state solution” in which Palestinians get their own country – an idea that is openly rejected by far-right figures in Israel’s newly installed government.
During the visit, the secretary of state announced an additional $50m (£40.6m) in funding for the UN agency for refugees, and said he had asked state department colleagues from Washington to stay behind to do more work. But no major initiative was announced.
Blinken’s visit is instead seen as an attempt to contain the issue, as part of Joe Biden’s efforts to ensure the Israel-Palestinian crisis does not overshadow the US’s broader goals, particularly defeating Russia in Ukraine.
In Ramallah, Blinken had urged Abbas to continue working with Israel on security issues, which were cut as a show of anger after the Jenin raid.
Abbas, however, has limited power and remains deeply unpopular among Palestinians, who accuse him of acting as a subcontractor for Israel to carry out its occupation. A new generation of frustrated and armed Palestinian militias unconnected to their increasingly isolated leaders is growing in power.
In Israel, the Netanyahu government’s response to the killings has been to propose new measures that further punish Palestinians, including making it easier to demolish the family homes of people who carry out attacks – a practice that has been widely condemned as collective punishment. The government also wants to make it easier for Israeli citizens to carry weapons.
Oliver Holmes is a Guardian journalist; he was previously Jerusalem correspondent and has reported across the Middle East and Asia