While visiting the Middle East this week to support the current ceasefire, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States will take several steps to mend diplomatic relations with the Palestinians. At a yet-to-be-determined date, America will reopen its consulate in Jerusalem and designate it as an autonomous office. Also, the United States will provide almost $40 million in financial aid to Palestinians, an amount that includes $5.5 million in emergency funds for Gaza. These steps represent reversals of decisions made by the Trump administration.
Antony Blinken: Both Sides ‘Deserve Equal Measures of Security’
Antony Blinken, America’s top diplomat, met separately this week with both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Biden administration had been criticized for being slow to address the recent Mideast violence. Before a ceasefire was declared, 11 days of attacks and fighting claimed more than 250 lives, mostly Palestinians.
“As I told the president,” Blinken said, “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.”
Under former President Trump, the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem was downgraded, relegated under the authority of the ambassador to Israel. The administration made that switch after moving the embassy to Jerusalem in 2018.
The previous president also had ended almost all financial help to Palestinians, citing worries that money was ending up in terrorists’ hands. Blinken promised that U.S. funds won’t land with Hamas, which both America and Israel consider a terrorist organization. He also said he’ll work to “rally international support” for Gaza as it rebuilds.
“We know that to prevent a return to violence, we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” Blinken said. “And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”
Tensions remain high in the area, and the truce is described as precarious. The cause of the latest dispute, the threatened eviction of Palestinian families, hasn’t yet been settled in court.
Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel Must Defend Itself
After meeting with Blinken, Netanyahu said, “We also reiterated that whatever happens, Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself against a regime committed to our destruction, committed to getting the weapons of mass destruction for that end.” The prime minister, whose political career remains uncertain, added that he’s urging America not to renew the nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu says any violation of the ceasefire will result in a “very powerful” response against Hamas. Peace won’t be possible in the region, he adds, until Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.”
The Biden administration has backed Israel’s right to defend itself. But it’s also facing pressure from some Congressional Democrats to take a tougher stand against Israeli violence.
In an open letter to Biden this week, more than 500 Democrats who worked on his presidential campaign urge him to “hold Israel accountable for its actions and lay the groundwork for justice and lasting peace.” They write, “The very same values that motivated us to work countless hours to elect you demand that we speak out… We remain horrified by the images of Palestinian civilians in Gaza killed or made homeless by Israeli airstrikes.”