Seeking to Restore Palestinian Links, Blinken Risks New Frictions With Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank — America’s high diplomat got here to the seat of the Palestinian authorities on Tuesday with guarantees of further support, a reopened consulate in Jerusalem and a broad sympathetic pledge to rebuild ties that had been severed by the earlier administration in favor of Israel.

With the uncooked emotion of deaths and wreckage from an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas militants nonetheless contemporary within the minds of each Israelis and Palestinians, the actions by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken represented, in tone no less than, an tried revival of America’s former function as a extra impartial arbiter within the Middle East’s most protracted battle.

It amounted to a pointy turnabout from the insurance policies of former President Donald J. Trump, who had made no secret of siding with Israel by closing a political channel with the Palestinian Authority and chopping off humanitarian help to thousands and thousands of Palestinians.

But it additionally carries huge dangers. The Biden administration says it should assist finance an infinite reconstruction effort within the Gaza Strip, which is managed by Hamas, a militant group thought of a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and lots of different nations.

Rebuilding ties with the Palestinians additionally dangers angering Israel, probably the most dependable U.S. ally within the Middle East, whose leaders are already anxious in regards to the Biden administration’s makes an attempt to rejoin a nuclear settlement with Iran. Israel has lengthy opposed and labored to undermine a deal.

At practically each cease on a daylong sequence of conferences in Jerusalem and Ramallah, Mr. Blinken emphasised the tragic deaths of civilians — together with youngsters — within the cross-border hostilities between Hamas and Israel that led to a fragile cease-fire late final week.

“The aspirations of the Palestinian people are like those of people everywhere,” Mr. Blinken stated after assembly the Palestinian chief, Mahmoud Abbas, at his presidential workplace within the occupied West Bank. The United States is committed, he stated, “to working with the Palestinian people to realize these aspirations.”

He then introduced that the State Department would reopen a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem to deal with Palestinian affairs that had been shut by the Trump administration in 2019, and ship an extra $112 million in support and improvement funding to the West Bank and Gaza. He stated that brings to greater than $360 million the quantity of aid that President Biden has provided since last month, annulling Trump administration cuts.

Mr. Abbas thanked Mr. Blinken for the extra lively function the United States had taken to calm latest disputes, notably in Jerusalem, that has in some instances put it at odds with Israel. “We hope that the future will be rife with diplomatic and political effort,” Mr. Abbas stated.

While pushing for calm, the Biden administration has additionally been cautious not to rupture relations with Israel. The United States was the lone holdout on the United Nations Security Council, the place it blocked any try to blame Israel in its latest conflict with Hamas. Mr. Biden had additionally publicly supported Israel’s proper to self-defense within the battle.

In truth, only some hours earlier than assembly with Mr. Abbas — a brief drive however seemingly a world away — Mr. Blinken met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who additionally thanked the Biden administration for its backing within the struggle in opposition to Hamas.

But Mr. Netanyahu bluntly reminded Mr. Blinken of Israel’s help for insurance policies that had been pushed by Mr. Trump: terminating the Iran nuclear deal and warming diplomatic relations with four Arab governments that had been traditionally hostile to Israel.

With American and Iranian diplomats separately meeting with world powers in Vienna, officers have in latest days famous progress in negotiations to carry each side again into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

That has unnerved Mr. Netanyahu and different Israeli leaders who need the United States to maintain out for stricter limits on Iran’s nuclear, missile and army packages earlier than signing any new settlement.

The authentic deal “paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Netanyahu stated, including: “Whatever happens, Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself against a regime committed to our destruction.”

While agreeing that Tehran have to be prevented from constructing a nuclear weapon, Mr. Blinken didn’t rise to Mr. Netanyahu’s bait, mildly noting that the Biden administration would proceed to seek the advice of with Israel about returning to the Iran nuclear settlement.

And although the overarching focus of Mr. Blinken’s go to — his first to the Middle East as secretary of state — was to safe a long-lasting cease-fire in a brief however lethal conflict, Mr. Netanyahu made clear that Israel was prepared to launch a “very powerful” response to any new assaults by Hamas.

Across Gaza, no less than 77,000 people were forced from their homes through the practically two weeks of Israeli airstrikes that sought to punish Hamas for firing long-range rockets in a position to attain Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Hundreds of 1000’s of individuals in Gaza have been reduce off from electrical energy and clear water.

Mr. Blinken described “urgent, humanitarian reconstruction assistance for Gaza” and referred to as for worldwide help to stop additional struggling. He proposed working with the Palestinian Authority — which doesn’t have widespread affect in Gaza — on rebuilding efforts as a approach to undermine Hamas and to assist guarantee it doesn’t profit from an support infusion.

But Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are bitter political rivals, and it’s removed from assured that the militants will cede any of their grip over Gaza.

“Hamas does not want the P.A. in charge of this process,” stated Ghassan Khatib, a political scientist at Birzeit University within the West Bank.

An Israeli overseas affairs ministry official, who spoke on situation of anonymity to share delicate discussions, stated Mr. Blinken had urged that Israel develop an support package deal to help the Palestinian Authority and, as a facet profit, strengthen its safety coordination.

But Israel resisted the proposal, the official stated, except the Palestinian Authority stopped cooperating with an International Criminal Court investigation of conflict crimes in territories occupied by Israel for the reason that 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict.

Mr. Blinken’s emphasis on serving to the Palestinians additionally raised the query of whether or not American coverage on the Middle East may veer but once more if Mr. Trump or one other Republican received the presidency in three years.

As if to underscore the distinction, Mr. Blinken’s predecessor within the Trump administration, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was visiting Israel this week as a personal citizen to attend a retirement occasion for Yossi Cohen, the director of the Mossad, the clandestine Israeli intelligence service. Mr. Pompeo, an outspoken critic of Mr. Biden’s overseas coverage, is broadly thought of a future presidential candidate.

On Wednesday, Mr. Blinken will journey to Egypt, which prodded Hamas to agree to final week’s cease-fire, after which on to Jordan, the custodian of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of many holiest websites in Islam.

He wouldn’t remark Tuesday on whether or not he had secured particular commitments from Israel to ease safety across the Aqsa Mosque or to halt the eviction of Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Tensions in each locations helped set off the escalated hostilities that led to army battle this month.

He did warn, nevertheless, in opposition to deliberate confrontation — together with new settlement exercise or evictions by Israel, or funding of terrorist teams by the Palestinians — that might threaten any hope for a long-term peace plan acceptable to each side.

Yet Mr. Blinken left little doubt of the Biden administration’s makes an attempt to rebuild Gaza and, finally, carry Palestinians again into the diplomatic fold with the United States “to address some of the underlying causes that could, if not addressed, spark another cycle of violence.”

“We found in working on this — intensely, quietly but resolutely — that America’s words matter,” Mr. Blinken, again in Jerusalem on the finish of a protracted day, instructed journalists. “America’s actions matter, and America’s engagement matters.”

Lara Jakes reported from Ramallah and Jerusalem, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem. Ronen Bergman contributed reporting from Tel Aviv.

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