Blinken makes pledge on US-Israel ties as thousands rally for Palestinian Land Day

The National  /  March 31, 2023

US Secretary of State also vowed renewed support for Palestinian state.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged to maintain the country’s strong ties with Israel, following a rare public disagreement between the two longtime allies.

Mr Blinken told Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Thursday he “reaffirmed the importance of the enduring US-Israel bilateral relationship”, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said.

But Mr Blinken also vowed renewed US support for a Palestinian state.

The call took place as thousands rallied across Israel and the Palestinian territories for Land Day on Thursday, commemorating a deadly crackdown in 1976 on protests against Israeli plans to seize land owned by Palestinian citizens.

Two people were wounded by Israeli army fire during a march in the blockaded Gaza Strip, AFP said.

US pressure on Israel

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon proposals that would give the Israeli government greater control over appointments to the country’s Supreme Court.

Mr Netanyahu rejected Mr Biden’s calls to “walk away” from the reforms and said he would not give in to foreign pressure.

He later claimed he was confident of finding a compromise on the reforms.

During Thursday’s call, Mr Blinken discussed Iran as well as renewed US support for a Palestinian state — an idea rejected by much of Israel’s hard-right government.

Mr Blinken “emphasized the importance of refraining from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions”, Mr Patel said.

Mr Biden, who has known Mr Netanyahu for decades, took office hoping to avoid a replay of the public feuding with the Israeli leader seen when he was Barack Obama’s vice president.

But the State Department issued strong condemnation after Israel’s parliament voted to annul a US-backed rule against certain Jewish settlements in the West Bank and denounced one of Mr Netanyahu’s ministers over remarks denying the existence of the Palestinian people.

What is Palestinian Land Day ?

Land Day commemorates protests and a strike on March 30, 1976, against a decision by the Israeli authorities to seize large sections of land in the northern Galilee region.

Israeli police fired at demonstrators, killing six people, and the government plan was subsequently annulled.

On Thursday, at the rally in Sakhnin, a Palestinian city in northern Israel, many people were wearing the traditional keffiyeh scarf as they waved Palestinian flags and chanted: “Freedom! Freedom!”, AFP reported.

“This demonstration is happening under a fascist government and against the backdrop of growing racism, which has become mainstream is Israel,” lawmaker Ahmed Tibi said.

Hayat Hammoud, 29, said she had joined the Sakhnin march in “solidarity” with the families of the “martyrs” of the 1976 events.

In Gaza, under a crippling Israeli-led blockade since 2007, hundreds marched along the heavily guarded border.

Israeli soldiers fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd from the other side of the fence, AFP said.

A Palestinian medical source said two people had been taken to hospital in Gaza city with gunshot wounds.

An Israeli army spokesman told AFP that “two fragmentation grenades” thrown from the Palestinian side landed on the other side of the fence without causing injuries.

“The soldiers shot tear gas and .22 calibre rounds, and hits were identified on a number of rioters,” he added.