US secretary of state Anthony Blinken started a two-day visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories on Monday.
He is the third high-level official from the US to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials this month. Assistant to Joe Biden for National Security Affairs Jake Sullivan and CIA director Bill Burns also visited the region and held talks with counterparts only a few days ago amid escalating violence, particularly by Israel, that claimed more than thirty Palestinians and seven Israelis.
The top US diplomat came to discuss three matters with the Israelis: limiting the scale of Netanyahu’s government response to the recent attacks against Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem, increasing Israel’s involvement in the efforts to help Ukraine and controversial judicial reforms by Israel’s far-right religious government.
The US opposes any Israeli retaliation to the recent attacks in the form of new settlements or recognising settler outposts in the occupied West Bank, said Amos Yaldin, former head of Israel’s military intelligence, during a brief to journalists.
On Ukraine, the United States is urging Israel to provide Kyiv with air defence systems and other weapons. Israel, however, is reluctant.
Additional involvement in the Russia-Ukraine war threatens Israel’s “freedom of action” in Syria, which Russia has allowed, Yaldin added.
Netanyahu and Blinken spoke for nearly two hours.
In a brief press conference, Netanyahu began by assuring secretary Blinken about the planned judicial reforms by Israel’s far-right government.
“We share common values,” he addressed Blinken. “Two strong democracies, which I assure you will remain two strong democracies.”
Last week, Israel’s top judge warned that the planned changes to the judiciary would crush the justice system and undermine the country’s alleged democracy.
Netanyahu shifted next to the Iran issue and the efforts to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Thirdly, he alluded to efforts to achieve a peace accord with the Saudis.
“I see an opportunity…to achieve dramatic breakthroughs, working to close finally the file of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This would also help achieve a workable solution with our Palestinian neighbours.”
Yaldin minimised the possibility of a breakthrough in relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, however.
Israel, Yaldin said, would have to accept the Arab peace initiative to get Saudi Arabia on board, while Israel is unlikely to adopt it.
On Saturday, an Iranian military facility in Isfahan was struck. The drone attack is believed to be the work of the Israeli Mossad.
“The Americans are distancing themselves through media leaks so we may assume it was Israel,” Yaldin noted.
The attack occurred while CIA director William Burns was still in the region.
Isfahan is reportedly a centre of missile production, research and development in Iran to assemble medium-range missiles capable of striking Israel and beyond.
The drone strike is one in a long campaign to reduce the capabilities of Iran without provoking a full-scale war.
Blinken/Netanyahu presser: Palestinians relegated to a bit-part mention, after a lot of talk about Negev Forum, as if it is Madrid 2.0.
Recurring theme of the last decade: “we don’t need, nor want the Palestinians present/represented to negotiate our form of ‘peace’”.
— Hafsa Halawa (@HafsaHalawa) January 30, 2023
During the press conference, Secretary Blinken reiterated American support for “preserving and realising the vision of a two-state solution.” He also urged to maintain the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif and respect religious coexistence.
Blinken also referred to Israel’s “greater integration” into the region pointing at the Negev Forum, which was held in Abu Dhabi earlier this month and saw the largest gathering between Arab states and Israel since the Madrid conference in 1991.
These relations “are no substitute for relations between Israel and the Palestinians,” he cautioned.
Blinken will meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday afternoon. He is expected to call for a renewal of security coordination between the two sides, which the PA ended after last week’s deadly Israeli army raid in Jenin that killed nine Palestinians.
Israel has raised two issues with the US over its relations with the Palestinian Authority. First, salaries paid by the PA to families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and second, the PA’s pursuit of legal actions against Israel in the International Criminal Court and other international forums such as the International Court of Justice.
Source: The New Arab
Tags Blinken Israel Occupation Palestine US