Blinken to urge end to violence on Middle East trip

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC, on January 18, 2023. — AFP
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC, on January 18, 2023. — AFP

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel next week to Israel, the West Bank and Egypt where he will urge an end to violence after a deadly Israeli raid, the State Department said on Thursday.

Blinken will hold his first in-person talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since his return to power leading Israel’s most right-wing government in history.

He will also meet in Ramallah with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on his visit on Monday and Tuesday.

Blinken “will underscore the urgent need for the parties to take steps to de-escalate tensions in order to put an end to the cycle of violence that has claimed too many innocent lives,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Blinken will first on Sunday visit Egypt, a key intermediary between the Israelis and Palestinians which has succeeded in maintaining cordial ties with the administration of President Joe Biden despite his vows to get tougher due to human rights concerns.

Blinken will discuss regional issues including Libya and Sudan and meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the State Department said.

The trip, while long in the planning, comes after a major flare-up in violence. Nine Palestinians were killed Thursday in an Israeli raid on a crowded refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin, officials in the occupied territory said.

Netanyahu has a fraught relationship with Biden’s Democratic Party, openly campaigning against previous president Barack Obama’s Iran policy, and Biden has been determined to start off on a good foot with his latest government.

Blinken’s trip follows a visit by Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, which was largely focused on Iran — which remains a top concern for Netanyahu.

Blinken has repeatedly said that the Biden administration will judge Netanyahu’s government by “the policies they pursue, not the personalities” that are inside it.

Those personalities include Itamar Ben-Gvir, who once hung a portrait in his home of a gunman who massacred Palestinian worshippers and now holds a national security post.

Ben-Gvir in early January sparked international statements of concern as he visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is holy both to Jews and Muslims. 

The United States urged Israel to preserve the status quo at the ultra-sensitive religious site, which Jews call the Temple Mount.

But despite the public concern over the far-right figures, Netanyahu appears to be succeeding so far in preserving normalization efforts with the Arab world, which he sees as one of his key achievements.

Netanyahu flew on Tuesday to Jordan, the second Arab nation after Egypt to recognize Israel, and held talks with King Abdullah II.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020 in a partnership driven by shared alarm over Iran, have also maintained meetings with the Jewish state since the change in government.

The trip will be Blicken’s fourth to Jerusalem since becoming the top US diplomat. He first went in May 2021, months into his tenure, after violence between Israel and the Palestinian militants Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

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