Mon | Dec 11, 2023

Blinken urges calm as violence soars

Published:Tuesday | January 31, 2023 | 1:10 AM
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel and the Palestinians on Monday to ease tensions following a spike in violence that has put the region on edge. The bloodshed has alarmed the Biden administration as it attempts to find common ground with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government.

Yet, aside from appeals for de-escalation and restraint, Blinken did not publicly offer any particular ideas for calming the situation, and it was not immediately clear from his meeting with Netanyahu that the administration would be proposing any. Blinken will meet today with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

“We’re urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate,” Blinken said after meeting Netanyahu. “We want to make sure that there’s an environment in which we can, I hope at some point, create conditions where we can start to restore a sense of security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, which, of course, is sorely lacking.”

Blinken arrived during one of the deadliest periods of fighting in years in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. An Israeli military raid on Thursday killed 10 Palestinians in the flashpoint West Bank town of Jenin, while a Palestinian gunman killed seven people outside a synagogue in an east Jerusalem settlement on Friday. The next morning, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and wounded two Israelis elsewhere in east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu made no reference to the recent flare-up in violence in brief comments after the meeting, instead speaking of the dangers to Israel posed by Iran and his hope for expanding the so-called ‘Abraham Accords’ — normalisation agreements with several Arab countries.

“Expanding the circle of peace; working to close, finally, the file of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I think would also help us achieve a workable solution with our Palestinian neighbours,” Netanyahu said in his only mention of the Palestinians.

Blinken was more forthright, saying the US supports the expansion of the Abraham Accords, but that they cannot be a substitute for a two-state solution that resolves the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“These efforts are not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinians, but as we advance Israel’s integration we can do so in ways that improves the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said, adding that the best way to do that would be through a two-state resolution creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Netanyahu’s government is dominated by far-right politicians who oppose Palestinian independence. Following the weekend shootings, his government approved a series of punitive moves against the Palestinians, including plans to “strengthen” West Bank settlements. The US, like most of the international community, considers Israeli settlements on lands claimed by the Palestinians for their state as obstacles to peace.

“Anything that moves us away from that vision is, in our judgement, detrimental to Israel’s long-term security and its long-term identity as a Jewish and democratic state,” Blinken said.