The U.S. foreign minister arrived at the Palestinian government headquarters on Tuesday (25) with promises to provide additional assistance, reopen a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and rebuild ties broken by the previous administration to favor Israel.
With the painful memory of the death and destruction engendered by 11 days of war between Israel and Hamas militants still recent in the minds of Israelis and Palestinians, the actions of Secretary of State Antony Blinken represented, at least on the tone adopted, an effort to reactivate Washington’s long-standing role as a more neutral mediator in the Middle East conflict.
The actions also indicated a marked departure from the policy followed by former President Donald Trump, who made no secret of siding with Israel, of shutting down a political channel of communication with the Authority. Palestinian Authority and reduce humanitarian aid previously sent to millions of Palestinians. .
But the new policy also carries great risks. Joe Biden’s administration says it will help fund a huge reconstruction effort in the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, a militant group labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and many other countries.
Restoring ties with the Palestinians also risks angering Israel, the most trusted U.S. ally in the Middle East, a region whose leaders are already worried about the Biden administration’s attempts to revert to the nuclear deal with Iran. Israel has opposed the deal for years and is working to weaken it.
At nearly every stopover he made during a busy day of meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah, Blinken pointed to the tragic deaths of civilians, including children, in the hostilities between Hamas and Israel that ended in a fragile ceasefire last week.
“The aspirations of the Palestinian people are like those of people all over the world,” Blinken commented after meeting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in his presidential office in the occupied West Bank. He said the United States was determined to “work with the Palestinian people to achieve these aspirations.”
Blinken then announced that the State Department would reopen a US consulate in Jerusalem to deal with Palestinian issues – the diplomatic mission was shut down by the Trump administration in 2019. And that it will send $ 112 million to the West Bank and Gaza .) Additional assistance and development funds.
Blinken explained that this will bring the volume of assistance promised by President Biden since last month to more than $ 360 million, reversing aid cuts made by the Trump administration.
Abbas thanked Blinken for the most active role the United States has played in resolving recent disputes, particularly in Jerusalem, and which in some cases has put Washington at odds with Israel. “We hope that the future will be full of diplomatic and political efforts,” Abbas said.
While calling for calm, the Biden administration has been careful to avoid a breakdown in its relations with Israel. The United States was the only voice against the UN Security Council, blocking any attempt to blame Israel for the recent war with Hamas. And Biden also publicly stressed Israel’s right to defend itself in the conflict.
In fact, just hours before meeting Abbas, Blinken had a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who also thanked the Biden administration for its support in the fight against Hamas.
But Netanhyahu openly reminded Blinken of Israel’s support for policies promoted by Trump: the end of the nuclear deal with Iran and the warming of diplomatic relations with four Arab governments historically hostile to Israel.
In recent days, as U.S. and Iranian diplomats met separately with various world powers in Vienna, progress was noted in negotiations to get the two sides to re-accede to the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. .
This fact worries Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, who want the United States to demand more restrictive limits on Iran’s nuclear and military program before new agreements are signed.
The original pact, Netanyahu said, “paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons.” He added: “Whatever happens, Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself against a regime committed to our destruction.”
While agreeing that Tehran must be prevented from building a nuclear weapon, Blinken did not react to Netanyahu’s beards, merely saying calmly that the Biden administration will continue to consult with Israel on a return to the deal. nuclear with Iran.
And while the main goal of Blinken’s trip – the first he made to the Middle East as Secretary of State – was to achieve a lasting ceasefire in a short but very deadly war, Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel is ready to launch a “response to any further Hamas attack.
At least 77,000 people were forced to flee their homes during the nearly two weeks of Israeli airstrikes, launched to punish Hamas for firing long-range rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza were left without electricity and clean water.
Blinken spoke of “urgent humanitarian assistance for the reconstruction of Gaza” and called for international support to avoid further suffering. He proposed that the United States work with the Palestinian Authority – which does not have broad influence in Gaza – in reconstruction efforts, as a way to weaken Hamas and help ensure that the organization does not benefit from an injection of humanitarian aid.
Requiring anonymity to share sensitive discussions, an Israeli chancellor official said Blinken had suggested that Israel prepare an assistance program to help the Palestinian Authority and, as an indirect benefit, strengthen its security coordination. .
But Israel has resisted the proposal, the official said, unless the Palestinian Authority stops cooperating with the International Criminal Court’s investigation into war crimes in the territories occupied by Israel since the War of the Six. days of 1967.
Blinken’s focus on helping the Palestinians also raised the question of whether US Middle East policy could change course again if Trump or another Republican ascended the presidency in three years.
As if to point out the contrast, Blinken’s predecessor in the Trump administration, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was visiting Israel this week as a private citizen to attend an event in honor of the departure to the retirement of the director of Mossoss, Yossi Cohen, the Israeli intelligence service. An open critic of Biden’s foreign policy, Pompeo is widely seen as a future presidential candidate.