US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas | Photo: US Department of State
During a mission to the Middle East on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged that Washington would provide assistance with the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip as part of efforts to maintain a ceasefire between the group of Islamic militants from Hamas and Israel.
Hoping to reverse a policy adopted by former President Donald Trump that angered Palestinians, Blinken said the United States would advance the process of reopening a representation in Jerusalem that would serve as a diplomatic channel with the Palestinians.
Speaking alongside Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Blinken said Washington would send an additional $ 75 million in economic aid to the Palestinians in 2021, 5.5 million immediate relief dollars in Gaza and 32 million dollars. to the Palestinian aid agency based there. “We know that to prevent the return of violence, we must use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” he said.
The US foreign minister said his country intended to adopt a more neutral policy towards the region than that adopted by the Trump administration, which sided with Israel on the divisive issues related to Palestine. The strategy of rebuilding ties with the Palestinians risks displeasing Israel, the United States’ main ally in the Middle East. Israeli leaders are already concerned about the Biden government’s attempts to reactivate the nuclear deal with Iran, which the Israeli government is opposed to.
Blinken reiterated that Washington intends to ensure that Hamas, a group that Americans consider a terrorist, will not benefit from humanitarian aid – a potentially difficult task in an enclave over which it has strong control. He said that if the aid was properly distributed, the strategy could weaken Hamas. “The group thrives on desperation, hardship and lack of opportunity,” said Blinken.
At a press conference later in the day, Blinken also warned of actions by Israel or the Palestinians that could cause tensions or, ultimately, undermine the two-state solution that the states- United again defended after the end of the Trump administration.
Such actions, he said, include Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territory where Palestinians seek to establish a state, possible expulsions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and incitement to militant violence on the Palestinian side. The ceasefire, brokered by Egypt and coordinated with the United States, came into effect Friday after 11 days of the worst fighting between Palestinian and Israeli militants in years.
Hundreds of Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 254 people in Gaza and injured more than 1,900, Palestinian doctors said, in addition to destroying or damaging commercial buildings, residential towers and private homes in the small town. coastal enclave.
The IDF estimated 13 killed in Israel, including hundreds injured by Hamas rocket fire in Gaza that caused panic and sent people to shelters in places further away from the enclave, such as the city. from Tel Aviv.
Meeting with Israelis and Palestinians
Blinken began his regional visit to Jerusalem, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, speaking to reporters alongside the US foreign minister, threatened a “very powerful response” if Hamas renewed its rocket attacks.
Blinken will remain in the region until Thursday. He will also visit Egypt and Jordan. Along with its visit, Israel allowed the entry of fuel, medicine and food for the private sector into Gaza for the first time since hostilities began on May 10.
Blinken said reopening the US Consulate General in Jerusalem would be an important way for his country to get involved and provide support to the Palestinian people. He did not provide a timeline for the reopening.
The Trump administration merged the consulate with the U.S. embassy in Israel in 2019, two years after recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel and moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv. The move broke with traditional American policy and infuriated Palestinians, who seek to make East Jerusalem the capital of their future state.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move that is not internationally recognized, as its capital. Biden does not intend to undo the embassy relocation, but acted in the first months of his presidency to restore relations with the Palestinians. In April, Biden reinstated hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid cut by Trump.
Real improvements for people
Blinken’s meeting with the President of the Palestinian Authority also illustrates his government’s desire to draw closer to the Palestinian leadership, after years of withdrawal under the Trump administration, with whom the PA severed relations because it thought he was in favor of Israel’s interests.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Abbas thanked the Biden administration for its commitment to a two-state solution to maintain the status quo at Haram al-Sharif (noble shrine), a sacred Jerusalem complex for Muslims and the Jews which contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque. , the third holiest site in Islam.
Abbas also expressed gratitude for what he called US support for preserving Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem where the potential eviction of Palestinian families helped spark the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Blinken said he was in contact with other countries in the international community to provide the PA with 1.5 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. The PA, with a government limited in areas of the occupied West Bank and without direct control over Gaza – where Hamas actually rules – is the only valid interlocutor for many countries and organs of the international community. Like the United States, the European Union also considers Hamas a terrorist group and has no direct relationship with it.
The last negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority sank in 2014. Although Biden said a two-state solution was the only possible solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, U.S. government officials have hinted that he was still too early for talks to resume. broader peace processes.
Israel is in political tension after four inconclusive elections in two years and the Palestinians are split between Hamas and Abbas. “Leaders on both sides will have to chart a better course,” Blinken said. “Starting with making real improvements in the lives of people in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
In Gaza, the Palestinian authorities estimated the cost of reconstruction in millions of dollars. Israel has imposed a blockade on the territory since 2007, which the Palestinians condemn as punishment. Egypt also maintains restrictions on its border with Gaza. Both countries cite security concerns for the measurements.