US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington will seek to provide $75m in development and economic assistance to Palestinians after an 11-day Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip ravaged the blockaded territory.
Blinken made the pledge during a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, on the first day of his visit to the region on Tuesday.
The United States also pledged $5.5m in “immediate disaster assistance” for Gaza and about $32m for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
“The United States will notify Congress of our intention to provide $75m in additional development and economic assistance to the Palestinians in 2021,” Blinken said.
The secretary of state said the US sought to build off an initial ceasefire agreement that ended the deadly escalation of violence, which began on May 10. Israeli attacks on Gaza killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and injured nearly 2,000 others.
At least 12 Israelis, including two children, were killed by rockets fired by Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza.
“We welcome the ceasefire that continues to hold, but that’s not enough; we have to build on the ceasefire and try to move things in a genuinely positive direction,” Blinken said after his meeting with Abbas, adding his visit sought to “rebuild” relations with the Palestinian Authority.
Ties between the PA and the US were largely severed after former President Donald Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 – a move that was widely denounced by Palestinians and international observers.
Blinken also announced the US would re-open its Consulate General in Jerusalem, which had overseen relations with the PA before it was absorbed by the relocated US embassy.
Abbas, for his part, said he hoped the future would be “full of diplomatic activities” with the US to “reach a comprehensive and just and full solution”.
Had a very good meeting with Israeli Prime Minister @Netanyahu today. I underscored America’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, and we discussed the importance of promoting peace, security, and dignity for all. https://t.co/z3qJbnwWSR pic.twitter.com/qog7mUKCrO
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 25, 2021
Unlike in statements during an earlier news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which avoided talk of a wider peace process, Blinken said that a “just, durable resolution” between Israel and Palestine “ultimately requires two states”.
He added the US continues “to firmly oppose” any actions that threaten more violence, “whether that is settlement activities, whether that is home demolitions, annexation of territory, incitement to violence, compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism”.
Reporting from Ramallah, Al Jazeera’s James Bays said the general lack of emphasis on a more comprehensive peace process during the visit indicates that the policy of US President Joe Biden’s administration “is to put a lid on this conflict”.
“That, I think, is because they believe right now, the time is not right for peace,” Bays said.
‘Ensure that Hamas does not benefit’
Following the meeting with Netanyahu earlier on Tuesday, Blinken also promised the US would work to assure international aid to rebuild Gaza would not benefit Hamas, the Palestinian faction that governs the coastal territory.
“We’ll work with our partners closely, with all, to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance,” Blinken said, without detailing how that would be achieved.
Hamas, which the US considers a “terrorist organisation”, controls the Gaza Strip and remains at odds with the PA, which controls the occupied West Bank.
Blinken also rebuffed criticism that the Biden administration should have taken a more public and firm line with Israel earlier on in the fighting, crediting Washington’s “intense, behind the scenes diplomacy” in bringing about the ceasefire.
He added that building on the agreement “starts with the recognition that losses on both sides were profound”.
The words are unlikely to satisfy human rights advocates, who have repeatedly called on the US to condemn Israel’s actions against Gaza, which destroyed residential buildings and infrastructure and which many observers argue amount to collective punishment.
The US previously and repeatedly blocked UN Security Council joint statements calling for a ceasefire during the violence.
Netanyahu, for his part, thanked the US for “firmly supporting Israel’s right to self-defence” during the escalation and vowed a “very powerful response” if Hamas breaks the ceasefire.
Both Blinken and Netanyahu hailed a US commitment to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system in the wake of the fighting, which comes amid calls by some US legislators address to curtail military aid and arms sales to Israel.