World News

Blinken begins Middle East trip with call for calm as Israeli-Palestinian violence flares | Israel

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is in Egypt to begin a three-day visit to the Middle East, where he will try to ease Israeli-Palestinian tensions following the outbreak of violence.

The US Secretary of State will travel to Jerusalem on Monday to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then travel to Ramallah on Tuesday to hold talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Blinken had long planned a trip to meet with Israel’s new right-wing government, but the trip takes on new urgency after one of the worst acts of violence in recent years.

Ten people were killed in an Israeli army raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on Thursday in one of the deadliest such operations in decades.

Israel said it carried out strikes against Islamic Jihad fighters and then hit targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in retaliation for the rocket attacks.

On Friday, a Palestinian militant killed seven people near a synagogue in the settlement area of ​​East Jerusalem, and another attack followed on Saturday.

Blinken will call for “general measures to reduce tensions,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said, condemning the “horrible” attack on the synagogue.

“The most important thing in the near future is to try to calm down,” Blinken said in an interview Sunday with Saudi news agency Al Arabiya, according to a State Department transcript.

French President Emmanuel Macron also called for restraint in the wake of the latest outbreak of violence.

In a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday, Macron “reminded everyone to avoid measures that could fuel a spiral of violence,” his office said in a statement.

He also expressed his “readiness to promote the resumption of dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis,” the statement said.

The recent surge in violence is also likely to affect Monday’s talks between Blinken and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose country’s traditional role as a Middle East broker has helped it remain a key US partner despite President Joe Biden’s criticism of him. rights record.

The United States, with its close relationship with Israel, has historically played a leading role in Middle East diplomacy.

But experts doubted whether Blinken could achieve any breakthroughs.

“The best thing they can do is maintain stability to avoid another May 2021,” said Aaron David Miller, a veteran US negotiator, referring to the 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas that ended in an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. .

Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian official now at the Washington Institute, expected Blinken to emulate traditional US positions rather than break new ground.

“The trip itself is a message,” he said.

“Blinken will ask Abbas to do more, but it’s not clear what they can do,” he said, referring to the Palestinians.

Blinken’s visit is part of the Biden administration’s effort to quickly engage with Netanyahu, who returned to power in late December with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

Israel’s longest-serving prime minister has had a difficult relationship with the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, as Netanyahu openly sided with his Republican adversaries against US diplomacy with Iran.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan visited this month to discuss Iran after efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal despised by Netanyahu almost failed.

“I have never seen such an intense flurry of high-level contacts under any administration as you are now seeing,” said Miller, who now works for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The Biden team is looking to “avoid a confrontation with Netanyahu,” Miller said, noting the Israeli leader’s strong support among Republicans, who now control the House of Representatives.

Barbara Leaf, senior State Department official for the Middle East, briefing reporters ahead of the trip, said the visit would also build on previous efforts to rebuild relations between Israel and the Arab countries through the Negev Forum, which covers areas such as economic cooperation. and tourism, but excludes Palestinians.

Netanyahu cited the 2020 normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates as a key achievement, moving forward at full speed in relations despite public concern over the actions of the new government.

Blinken is expected to reiterate US support for a Palestinian state during his trip, a prospect few expect under a new Israeli government.

The US State Department said Blinken would call for the status quo to be maintained on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right ideologue who holds a security post in the Netanyahu government, defiantly visited what Jews call the Temple Mount in early January.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button