Jerusalem, Unidentified: Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed Tuesday to rebuild US relations with Palestinians by reopening a consulate in Jerusalem, as well as giving millions in aid to help the war-ravaged Gaza Strip.
The announcements signaled a clean break with US policy under former president Donald Trump, who had shuttered the diplomatic mission for Palestinians in 2019 and slashed aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Long term, Blinken evoked the “possibility of resuming the effort to achieve a two-state solution, which we continue to believe is the only way to truly assure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of course to give the Palestinians the state they’re entitled to”.
Blinken’s visit, part of a wider Middle East tour, comes after Friday’s truce ended 11 days of the heavy Israeli bombing of Gaza and rocket fire out of the enclave on Israel, as tensions simmer in the annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
“The United States will be moving forward with the process of reopening our consulate in Jerusalem,” Blinken said after meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, later adding there was no timeline yet for that.
The top diplomat of US President Joe Biden reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks by the Islamist group Hamas, which he said must not benefit from the aid effort to rebuild Gaza.
But Blinken also stressed Washington’s commitment to rebuilding relations with the Palestinians with a “shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, freedom opportunity and dignity”.
Millions in aid
Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded over 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict from May 10, the health ministry in Gaza says.
Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian national, and two Thai workers, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.
Blinken said he would notify Congress of the intention to provide $75 million in aid to the Palestinians, on top of $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance for Gaza, and about $32 million for an emergency humanitarian appeal by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
“Reconstruction and then relief for the people of Gaza, far from empowering Hamas, I think has the potential to undermine it,” he said.
He said this was because Hamas — which Washington considers to be a terrorist group — thrives “on desperation, on a lack of opportunity”.
If material improvement in people’s lives in Gaza was achieved, with the help of all sides including Israel and the Palestinian Authority, “then Hamas’ foothold in Gaza will slip”, he said.
‘Lots of hard work’
Abbas said earlier in the day his administration was ready to “work directly to help with the reconstruction of Gaza”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, warned that Israel remained ever ready to defend itself.
“If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful,” he said.
The latest military escalation started after clashes in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.
Israeli forces had moved in on Palestinian worshippers there, towards the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
They had also sought to quell protests against the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Jewish settlers.
“There’s lots of hard work ahead to restore hope, respect, and some trust across the communities,” Blinken said.
The recent war has sparked unrest across Israel, with mob violence between Israeli Jews and Arabs, as well as clashes in the occupied West Bank.
Peace talks have stalled since 2014, including over the status of east Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Blinken said Tuesday the United States opposed any settlement activity, demolitions, evictions, incitement to violence, and payment to “terrorists” as they could all spark renewed tensions and “undermine the prospect of returning to two states”.
Palestinian shot dead
Israel on Tuesday began allowing humanitarian aid to pass into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing, saying it would permit daily convoys.
Patients were to be able to travel in and out of Gaza for treatment and fishing off the enclave’s coast resume.
But tensions simmer in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Hours before Biden’s arrival, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man during an arrest raid on the Amara refugee camp near Ramallah in the West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli security sources said.
In Jerusalem, an attacker Monday stabbed two young Israeli men including a soldier before police shot him dead. Palestinian news agency WAFA identified him as a 17-year-old Palestinian high school student.
The UN Human Rights Council was to consider launching a broad, international investigation into abuses in the latest Gaza conflict and also into “systematic” abuses Thursday, according to a draft resolution presented by Pakistan.
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA VIA TWITTER