Blinken to visit Israel and West Bank with tensions high after outbreak of violence
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah next week has become more urgent following a wave of deadly violence in Israel and the West Bank.
His trip, including a stopover in Egypt, has been anticipated to be complicated, as it will be the first visit by the top US diplomat to Israel since the new Israeli government. Israel, composed of radical nationalists and radical parties, came to power.
Now, Blinken is poised to face a rapidly escalating crisis that shows no signs of de-escalating.
At least 7 people died in the accident Mass shooting at a synagogue in Jerusalem Friday is being described as a terrorist attack. Israeli police said the gunman killed by police, a 21-year-old resident of East Jerusalem, appeared to have acted alone.
On Thursday, Israeli forces killed nine Palestinians and wounded several others during a raid on a refugee camp in the city of Jenin on the West Coast. According to a CNN profile, another Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli troops later that day in the town of al-Ram, adding to the death toll on the bloodiest day for Palestinians in the West Bank in recent years. more than one year. Then, on Friday night, Israel launched air strikes on Gaza after rockets were fired towards Israel.
The Palestinian Authority responded to Jenin’s raid by announcing that it would cease security coordination with Israel beginning immediately.
While US officials have indicated that the days of violence will not affect the top diplomat’s trip, the White House on Friday condemned the “cruel terrorist attack” on the Dojo synagogue. Thai and Foreign Ministry officials on Thursday expressed concern about the security situation following the Jenin raid.
“There’s a chance things will get worse in terms of security, protests or any other kind of motivational action,” said Barbara Leaf, the top State Department official in the region. to reporters on Thursday before the synagogue shooting, adding that the department is in close contact with diplomatic and security personnel on the ground. She also called on the two sides to maintain and strengthen security coordination.
The Biden administration has been careful in its wording and has sought to publicly avoid criticizing the new government in Israel, which is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and includes controversial far-right government ministers. Over the past few weeks, US officials have held several contacts with the new government – Blinken’s trip followed visits by national security adviser Jake Sullivan and CIA Director Bill Burns. Israel is one of the United States’ staunchest allies and the importance of the relationship was underlined earlier this week when the two nations put together a joint agreement. the biggest joint exercise ever on Monday.
Aaron David Miller, who served for two decades at the State Department as an analyst, negotiator and adviser on Middle East affairs, told CNN he “never seen an administration.” communicate with the new Israeli government so often, early and at such a high level.” level like this.”
“I think their strategy is basically to say, ‘OK, you’ve formed this government, your hands are on the wheel. You’ve told us you’re in charge, and now we’re going to engage directly and strongly with you. Because if things go south, you are the one who will be responsible for controlling your own ministers,'” he said. Miller said he doesn’t expect the relationship between the two administrations to be openly confrontational, especially as Biden seeks to ensure that he is seen as pro-Israel ahead of a potential US re-election campaign. .
Meanwhile, far-right elements of the new Israeli government have exacerbated tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
New national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir was previously convicted of aiding terrorism and inciting anti-Arab racism. Earlier this year, following his appointment as minister, he visited the Jerusalem complex known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif or the Holy Land of Muslims, in a move that has been internationally received. condemn.
Although he visited during opening hours for non-Muslims, his visit was considered controversial because Ben Gvir had publicly called for a change to the delicate status quo agreement that governs the region. complex.
State Department spokesman Ned Price at the time responded by saying that the United States believed the visit had “the potential to exacerbate tensions and incite violence.”
While the Biden administration has advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there has been little movement and seemingly little active effort toward that goal. That’s something Blinken will address in his meetings with the Israelis and Palestinians, said Leaf, the State Department official.
Miller said he doesn’t expect any progress to be made on the matter during Blinken’s visit, which will instead look like a “prolonged condolence call” over the Jerusalem synagogue attack on Friday.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of advocacy group J-Street, which promotes a two-state solution, said he believes Blinken’s trip is timely and sends an important message about US engagement.
He said the administration should try to be clear both to the new Israeli government privately as well as publicly about what the United States considers unacceptable, such as “plans to de facto annexation of territory in the West Bank”.