Blinken faces an uphill task ahead - GulfToday

Blinken faces an uphill task ahead


Antony Blinken

The question that is on everyone’s mind is whether United States’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Tel Aviv and Ramallah and his meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday and Tuesday will help in lowering the tension between the Israelis and the Palestinians as they are caught in a spiral of violence. Blinken landed in Cairo on Sunday. He is expected  to discuss Israeli-Palestine relations with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters that Blinken will ask Abbas and Netanyahu to “de-escalate tensions”. It is also expected that Blinken will reiterate the US position about the Palestinian state and of maintaining the status quo of the Al Aqsa Mosque. The last point is an indirect statement of the US position that Israel should not violate the position of Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine in the Islamic world.

But observers of the Middle East in the United States are not sure whether Blinken will succeed in his mission because the Netanyahu government has members of far right, Israeli politicians like national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has adopted the most provocative stance on all issues related to the Palestinians. Ghaith Al-Omari, a former Palestinian official now with The Washington Institute said, “The trip itself is the message. Blinken will ask Abbas to do more but it is not clear what they can do.”

The violence last week involved Israeli soldiers killing nine Palestinians, including a woman, in the Jenin refugee camp in Gaza on Thursday, and a Palestinian gunman killing seven Israelis outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem, under Israeli control after the 1967 war. It is this uncontrollable spiral of violence that has diplomats worried in the world. When there was a similar violent confrontation between Israel and Palestine, Egyptian President El-Sisi had brokered a peace. The Middle East watchers are hoping that the present confrontation and the accompanying violence between Palestine and Israel would not lead to a major outbreak of violence similar to the 2021 confrontation. It will be hard for any mediation to be successful because the Netanyahu government is full of hardliners, and if Abbas does not take a similar hardline stance, he would lose support in Gaza.

It is also being recognised that Netanyahu does not have a good rapport with Democratic presidents, and he is a supporter of the Republicans. This makes things all the more difficult for President Joe Biden to deal with Netanyahu and his hardline governments. At the same time, the United States cannot remain a mute spectator as things get out of hand between Israel and Palestine. Blinken has the onerous responsibility of getting assurances from Abbas and Netanyahu that the violence will be brought under control on both sides.

It is true that the United States is not in a position to get the Netanyahu government to agree to the recognition of a Palestinian state because Palestinians cannot accept the status quo of the Occupied West Bank, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 war and settlements have been happening aggressively, with and without the support of the Israeli government.

It is believed that the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Bill Burns was in the region, assessing the fraught situation. And National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan visited Israel and Palestine some time back. The Biden White House seems to exploring all possible ways of keeping the situation under control. And it does not seem to be an easy task. It is also clear that the situation cannot be allowed to deteriorate and outbreak of sustained violence between the Palestinians and Israelis will prove to be dangerous for the region.

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