On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and announced plans to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem.
As part of his trip to bolster the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the top US diplomat also said that the US would provide help for Israeli stability as well as the “grave humanitarian situation” in Gaza.
Following a meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Blinken told reporters that the US will mobilise foreign support to assist Palestinians in Gaza while ensuring that the terrorist group Hamas does not profit from the assistance.
The Egypt-brokered cease-fire took effect Friday, ending 11 days of deadly fighting between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist group the United States has designated as terrorists. The Israeli bombing campaign killed more than 230 people, mostly Palestinians.
After meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and then separately with Abbas in Ramallah, the West Bank.
Blinken will not meet with Hamas leaders during the trip. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Authority operates in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Blinken landed at Ben Gurion International Airport near Jerusalem early Tuesday and is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the Middle East since President Joe Biden took office.
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken said Biden sent him to work for peace in the region and review reconstruction and humanitarian needs in Gaza.
He said during remarks to the media that the United States wants to shore up the cease-fire “with the recognition that losses on both sides were profound.”
The United States, he added, is committed to replenishing Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system, which stopped most of the Hamas rockets from landing.
To prevent more violence, Blinken said Biden wants both sides to use “space” created by the cease-fire to “address the underlying issues” and added that rebuilding Palestinian areas in Gaza should be a priority.
During remarks with Abbas, Blinken said the reopening of the Jerusalem consulate will strengthen diplomatic relations between the United States and Palestinians. He didn’t provide a date for the reopening.
“As I told the president, I’m here to underscore the commitment of the United States to rebuilding the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, a relationship built on mutual respect and also a shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity,” Biden said.
Earlier this year, Biden’s administration restored more than $200 million in U.S. aid to Palestinians, most through the United Nations refugee program, which had been cut by former President Donald Trump.
Netanyahu thanked Blinken for U.S. support for Israel, but warned that he’s ready to act if Hamas breaks the cease-fire.
“If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful,” he told reporters. “We have discussed ways of how to work together to prevent Hamas rearmament with weapons and means of aggression.”
The latest unrest was sparked by the evacuation of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. Dozens of Palestinian families are being evicted from the area by Jewish refugees, prompting outrage on both sides.
During Ramadan, police tactics near the al-Aqsa mosque have culminated in brutality.
Blinken said last weekend that Biden is committed to a two-state solution in Gaza while allowing Israel the “means to defend itself.” He noted the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must end in a way that allows both to live with “equal measures of security, of peace and of dignity.”
After leaving Israel and the West Bank, Blinken also will visit Jordan and Egypt before returning to the United States.