Secretary of State Antony Blinken took off for the Middle East on Monday to press the Israelis, Palestinians and regional players to build on and strengthen last week’s Gaza cease-fire, start an immediate flow of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and lay the groundwork for an eventual resumption in long-stalled peace talks.
President Joe Biden announced that he was dispatching Blinken to the region for what will be his administration’s highest-level, in-person talks on the crisis that erupted earlier this month. The White House said later that Biden had spoken to Egypt’s president, one of several leaders Blinken will meet on his trip, to underscore the importance of getting assistance to Gaza.
The State Department said Blinken will visit Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt on a trip that comes as the administration has faced broad criticism for its initial response to the deadly violence.
In a statement, Biden said Blinken will work with regional partners to ensure “the coordinated international effort to ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza.”
Blinken’s discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Jordanian King Abdullah II will focus on shoring up the cease-fire, sending urgent aid to Gaza, ending intra-communal violence in Israeli cities and laying the preliminary groundwork for a return to peace talks, according to a senior State Department official.
The White House said Biden and Sissi had spoke on Monday about “the urgent need to deliver humanitarian assistance to those in need in Gaza and to support rebuilding efforts in a manner that benefits the people there and not Hamas.”
While Blinken will meet with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan, he will not see anyone from the Hamas movement that runs Gaza. Hamas is a U.S.-designated “foreign terrorist organization,” and contacts between American officials and the group are banned. That means the United States must rely on third countries like Egypt and Qatar to pass messages to Hamas. Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement are also at odds, meaning that Palestinian leadership is split.
The State Department official, who was not authorized to discuss the trip by name and spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said Blinken would be looking at how the United States can support Israel and the Palestinians in rebuilding, address the underlying causes that led to this crisis and advance equal measures of freedom, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians “in tangible ways.”
The official would not offer specifics as to what those “tangible ways” are, but already donor nations are being asked to look at potential new contributions to reconstruct damage done to civilian infrastructure in Gaza.
The official said one aim of Blinken’s talks would be to try to reintegrate Fatah “to some extent” into a leadership role in Gaza, where it has been locked out of power since losing elections in 2006. The official said that could help create conditions for more stability.