Blinken urges calm amid escalation in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Pablo Duer

Jerusalem, Jan 31 (EFE).- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with top Israeli officials and offered Washington’s support for a de-escalation of tensions with the Palestinians, seeking to restore calm after a week of violence in which more than 20 people were killed.

Blinken’s visit comes as part of a broader Middle East tour that took him to Egypt on Sunday and will continue on Tuesday in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The United States’ top diplomat met on Monday with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as that nation’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, and president, Isaac Herzog.

“It’s incumbent on all parties to take urgent steps to de-escalate tension, establish conditions for the security and stability that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve,” Blinken said after his meeting with Cohen. “As I discussed with both the prime minister and the foreign minister, we’ll do the same with (Palestinian National Authority) President (Mahmoud) Abbas. The United States stands ready to support the parties in this vital effort.”

During his meetings, Blinken expressed his condolences for an attack Friday by a Palestinian gunman that killed seven people outside their synagogue in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and expressed his “solidarity with all the people of Israel as they confront terrorism.”

Speaking more broadly, he expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said “anything that moves us away from that vision is, in our judgment, detrimental to Israel’s long-term security and its long-term identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Another key topic addressed on Monday was US-Israeli efforts to counter Iran, a country Blinken described as an increasingly global threat.

“Just as Iran has long supported terrorists that attack Israelis and others, the regime is now providing drones that Russia is using to kill innocent Ukrainian civilians,” the US secretary of state said.

Along those lines, he said he discussed with Netanyahu “deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond.”

Blinken’s visit was his first since Netanyahu’s hard-line new government took office late last month with a coalition consisting of his Likud party and ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalist Jewish allies.

Since the new administration was sworn in, the White House has expressed concern about some of the proposals mentioned in the coalition’s agreements, including plans to annex the West Bank, allow the death penalty for “terrorists,” and overhaul the judicial system to enable lawmakers to overrule the Supreme Court’s rulings with a simple majority.

In regard to that latter question, Blinken said the US supports “core democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, the equal administration of justice for all, the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law, free press, a robust civil society,” all of which, according to opponents of the reform, would be in jeopardy if it becomes law.

In his meeting with Israel’s president, the US official hailed Herzog’s attempts in the wake of massive protests in recent weeks to “finding a good way forward that builds consensus on the question of judicial reform” and “working to de-escalate tensions” among the different sectors of society.

Addressing that issue, Netanyahu said US-Israeli ties are based on common interests and values and stressed that the two countries are “two strong democracies which will remain, I assure you, two strong democracies.”

Herzog, for his part, thanked Blinken for his support but said “at the end of it all, we have to resolve our issues amicably internally as societies and nations should do, and this is my main focus these very days.”

Separately, Israel’s foreign minister hailed Washington’s announcement Monday about Israel having fulfilled a key requirement for admittance to the US’s Visa Waiver Program – a below 3 percent rejection rate for Israeli visa applications during the 2022 fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2021-Sept. 30, 2022).

“We will take all the necessary measures, including legislation, in order to meet the (remaining) requirements by the end of this year,” Cohen said.

An additional matter on the bilateral agenda Monday was Israel’s relations with Arab countries of the region and its willingness to deepen the Abraham Accords that the Jewish state – through US mediation – signed in 2020 with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

“We’re determined to keep building on that progress, on new issues with new countries, as we work to strengthen the circle of peace,” Blinken said in reference to the possibility that more nations of the region establish diplomatic ties with Israel.

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