US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has refused to commit to the idea of occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state, saying the parties need “to get together directly and negotiate these so-called final status issues”.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer earlier this week, Blinken however, reiterated the Biden administration’s plans to keep the US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, after it was relocated during former president Trump’s administration.
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“I do, yes. And more importantly, we do,” said Blinken, reiterating a position he had declared ahead of the inauguration on January 20, saying Biden’s administration would keep the US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.
Former President Trump had announced the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. The US moved its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May of the following year.
Jerusalem remains at the heart of the decades-long Middle East conflict, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) insisting East Jerusalem – illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 – should serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.
When asked whether Biden’s administration will continue to see the Golan Heights as part of Israel, the top US diplomat said it would. Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 is considered illegal under international law.
“Leaving aside the legalities of that question, as a practical matter, the Golan is very important to Israel’s security,” Blinken said in the interview.
“As long as Assad is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran, the Assad regime itself – all of these pose a significant security threat to Israel, and as a practical matter, the control of the Golan in that situation I think remains of real importance to Israel’s security,” he added.
The comments elicited criticism on social media. Political analyst Omar Baddar said the remarks made clear how “infuriatingly biased towards Israel the admin’s policy will be”.
“Blinken explicitly endorses Israel’s unlawful and widely-condemned declaration of Jerusalem as its capital,” said Baddar on Twitter.
“Asked whether he’d support a Palestinian capital in occupied East Jerusalem (from which Israel is obligated to withdraw under int’l law), Blinken becomes non-committal,” he added.
Blinken explicitly endorses Israel's unlawful & widely-condemned declaration of Jerusalem as its capital. Asked whether he'd support a Palestinian capital in occupied East Jerusalem (from which Israel is obligated to withdraw under int'l law), Blinken becomes non-committal: pic.twitter.com/y2BFB86ni8
— Omar Baddar عمر بدّار (@OmarBaddar) February 9, 2021
The Trump administration has been unabashed in its open support for Israel.
The past four years have entrenched US favouritism for Israel through policies such as cutting off US aid to the PA and withdrawing funding to the UN refugee agency on which millions of Palestinians depend for education, food and livelihoods.
Going against international consensus, the Trump administration recognised Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and the occupied Golan Heights and declared that settlement building is not illegal.
Nearly 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank. In recent years settlement expansion has intensified, threatening the viability of an independent Palestinian state as part of the two-state solution.
While Biden has indicated his administration will restore Washington’s pre-Trump policy of opposing settlement expansion, he nonetheless claims “ironclad support” for Israel.
Analysts have previously pointed out that Biden’s Israel policy is likely to be a continuation, not a reset of the previous administration.