Antony Blinken warns of ‘shrinking horizon of hope’ for Palestinians during visit to West Bank

Alastair Jamieson

The Independent  /  January 21, 2023

‘Restoring calm is our immediate task,’ says US secretary of state.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has expressed “deep concern” at escalating violence in the Middle East, saying Palestinians face a “shrinking horizon of hope” for a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel.

President Biden’s top diplomat met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, a day after seeing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, beyond urging a de-escalation of tensions, Mr Blinken offered no new peace initiative and there were few signs that he was making progress on even the modest goal of halting the latest wave of violence, much less of addressing the broader issues surrounding peace talks.

He told reporters he heard concrete ideas from both sides that, if pursued, could help defuse the current situation and instructed two top aides, Barbara Leaf and Hady Amr, to remain in the region.

Mr Blinken also said the US would oppose “anything” that undermines the two-state peace vision, including the building of new settlements or demolition of Palestinian homes.

“Restoring calm is our immediate task. But over the longer term, we have to do more than just lower tensions,” he said. “The United States is committed to working toward our enduring goal of ensuring that Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice and dignity.”

In Ramallah, Mr Abbas placed all blame for the spike in violence on Israel and berated the international community for not doing more to pressure Israel.

“We affirm that the Israeli government is responsible for what is happening today,” he said, adding: “Israel is being overlooked, without deterrence or accountability, as it continues its unilateral operations.”

Mr Netanyahu’s far-right government is dominated by hardliners who oppose Palestinian statehood and are unlikely to make even minimal concessions.

Mr Blinken’s visit comes amid one of the deadliest periods of fighting in years in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. Some 35 Palestinians have been killed in fighting, including 10 killed in an Israeli military raid in the flashpoint town of Jenin last Thursday.

On Friday, a Palestinian gunman killed seven people outside a synagogue in an east Jerusalem settlement. The next morning, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and wounded two Israelis elsewhere in east Jerusalem.

The violence has further complicated the administration’s already difficult attempts to find common ground with Netanyahu’s government.

Before heading to the West Bank, Mr Blinken met Israel’s opposition leader, former prime minister Yair Lapid.

“The secretary conveyed his concern over the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank and the need for urgent action to prevent greater loss of life,” Mr Blinken’s office said.

Mr Netanyahu’s national security minister, far-right ultra-nationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, vowed to push forward with punitive measures against the Palestinians in response to a pair of shootings in east Jerusalem over the weekend. Mr Ben-Gvir has pledged to demolish Palestinian homes and hand out more weapons to Israeli civilians.

Alastair Jamieson – editor