Middle East Eye / May 24, 2021
US secretary of state will visit Israel, the occupied West bank, Jordan and Egypt as part of his Middle East tour.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on Tuesday, on a trip where he will meet with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as the fragile ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas continues to hold.
Blinken was welcomed at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport by Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
Tensions remain high after Israeli police launched an operation on Monday involving the mass arrests of Palestinian citizens of Israel. This came just a day after Israeli police escorted Jewish settlers to enter al-Aqsa Mosque complex.
According to the White House, Blinken will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Ashkenazi.
He will then head to the occupied West Bank and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.
The secretary is also travelling to Jordan and Egypt, which would conclude the Biden administration’s highest-level in-person meeting on the most recent escalation, which began on 10 May and lasted for 11 days.
“The United States has engaged in intensive diplomacy to bring an end to the hostilities in Gaza,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Monday.
“Secretary Blinken is travelling to the region to discuss essential follow-up efforts to consolidate the ceasefire and reduce risks of further conflict over the coming months.”
Israeli air strikes killed at least 248 people, including 66 children in Gaza, and wounded 1,948 others, the local health ministry has said.
Twenty-eight people were killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and one in Jerusalem over the two weeks of violence that began in early May, when Israeli security forces violently stormed al-Aqsa Mosque on Islam’s holy night of Laylat al-Qadr, causing global outrage.
Rockets fired from Gaza following the raids claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child, a teenager and an Israeli soldier, with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, Israeli authorities said.
Biden defends US ‘quiet diplomacy’
Prior to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, protests over the forced expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem were met with a crackdown by Israeli forces.
While the administration has been heavily criticized by Palestinians for its handling of the crisis, US President Joe Biden on Monday defended Washington’s “quiet, intensive diplomacy to bring about a ceasefire”.
“During his trip, Secretary Blinken will meet with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. He will continue our administration’s efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders, after years of neglect,” Biden said in a statement on Monday.
Blinken’s visit comes as Egyptian mediators have been shuttling between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which is governed by Hamas, in attempts to sustain the ceasefire. The mediators have also met with Abbas in the occupied West Bank.
It also comes after the United Nations Security Council on Saturday called for “full adherence to the ceasefire”, the council’s first statement on the situation since the violence began, after the US had blocked proposals calling for a ceasefire four times.
Strengthening the PA at Hamas’s expense
Blinken will be meeting with a Palestinian leadership that had been outmanoeuvred over the last two weeks by Hamas, and a leadership that is also more despised by Palestinians than in previous years.
The Palestinian Authority – which governs over the occupied West Bank – maintains close security ties with Israel and is invested in a two-state solution, although there have not been any substantive peace talks in the last decade.
Last month, the PA’s Abbas called off the first elections in 15 years, citing the voting rights of Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem.
Some Palestinians have come to see the PA as being a part of an entrenched system of Israeli control, while Hamas was able to portray itself as the defender of Jerusalem, and to say it had struck a blow against the far more powerful Israel, despite Israel killing nearly 250 people in the besieged strip.
“The option is either to engage with Hamas or an incredibly unrepresentative and defunct governing – somewhat of a governing – authority that holds absolutely no legitimacy,” Tahani Mustafa, an analyst at the Crisis Group, told the Associated Press.
When speaking last week about the ceasefire in Gaza, Biden said that he would work to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and support for reconstruction in Gaza but said that Washington would not work with Hamas.
“We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, the authority, in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock his military arsenal,” Biden said.
A senior State Department official reiterated that point on Monday when they said that the US planned to use aid to reintegrate the PA in Gaza at the expense of Hamas.
“We’re in touch with the Gulf, and again, we are – and other donors – and we’re trying to structure things, again, in a way that diminishes Hamas’s abilities, strengthens the people of Gaza, begins a process of hopefully reintroducing and reintegrating the Palestinian Authority into Gaza, and is in partnership with the United Nations,” the official said at a press briefing.