US top diplomat Blinken to visit Israel, West Bank next week

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit comes after a ceasefire was reached to end deadly Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to visit Israel as well as Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank next week [File: Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters]

The United States’ top diplomat is expected to visit Israel and the occupied West Bank next week, just days after a ceasefire was reached between Israel and Palestinian faction Hamas to end 11 days of deadly Israeli bombardments of the Gaza Strip.

An unnamed source told the Reuters news agency on Saturday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit Israel as well as Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank on Wednesday and Thursday.

The State Department has not yet released the full details of Blinken’s travel plans, but the source told Reuters that Blinken would also visit Egypt and Jordan.

The trip comes days after Egypt helped broker a ceasefire to end Israeli attacks on Gaza that killed at least 248 Palestinians in the besieged coastal territory, injured nearly 2,000 others, and destroyed buildings and critical infrastructure.

At least 12 people in Israel, including two children, were killed by rockets fired from the Strip by Palestinian armed groups.

US President Joe Biden’s administration had faced widespread pressure, including from progressive legislators in Biden’s Democratic Party, to pressure Israel to end its military assault on Gaza.

Biden hailed the ceasefire announced on Thursday, but reiterated that “the United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks”.

In a statement that same day, the State Department said Blinken in a phone call with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also welcomed the ceasefire, as well as Egypt’s mediation efforts to reach the deal.

Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken “will meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and regional counterparts in the coming days to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians” during his visit to the region.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from West Jerusalem, said “the bigger question for the Blinken visit is whether this changes the calculations of the Biden administration”.

Since coming into office in January, Biden and his top officials had sought to “de-prioritise” the Israel-Palestine issue amid a string of other foreign policy priorities, including the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and efforts to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.

“Will they now change that and refocus on negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and the US actively pursuing them?” Bays said.

Critics have questioned the Biden administration’s approach to the conflict, urging the US president to publicly pressure Israel – which receives nearly $4bn in US military aid annually – rather than pursue “behind-the-scenes” diplomacy.

Progressive lawmakers are also pushing to cancel a $375m weapons sale to Israel, arguing last week that the US should not be arming the Israeli military as it dropped bombs on Palestinians in Gaza.

Sultan Barakat of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies told Al Jazeera that while Biden stuck to the usual rhetoric about supporting Israel, “the foreign policy agenda of the US is shifting here a little bit – partly driven by the Democrats’ focus on ethical foreign policy”.

“Of course this is a very difficult test,” Barakat said. “If they start with this conflict, and they’re not able to stand up for human rights, then they’re doomed really for many years to come.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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