Blinken Meets Palestinian Leader In West Bank, Stepping Up Mideast Diplomacy As Gaza War Escalates

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas shake hands following their meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Pool via AP)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken brought his frenetic Mideast diplomatic push on the Israel-Hamas war to the occupied West Bank on Sunday, meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his latest bid to ease civilian suffering in the Gaza Strip and begin to sketch out a post-conflict scenario for the territory.

Blinken traveled to Ramallah for his previously unannounced visit in an armored motorcade and under tight security just hours after Israeli warplanes struck a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens, health officials said. Despite the secrecy and the State Department refusing to confirm the trip until after Blinken had physically left the West Bank, protests erupted against his visit and U.S. support for Israel as word of his arrival leaked.

Aside from pleasantries, neither man spoke as they greeted each other in front of cameras and the meeting ended without any public comment. It was not immediately clear if the lack of words indicated the meeting had gone poorly.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Blinken reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance and resumption of essential services in Gaza and made clear that Palestinians must not be forcibly displaced.

Blinken and Abbas discussed efforts to restore calm and stability in the West Bank, including the need to stop extremist violence against Palestinians and hold those accountable responsible, Miller said, in reference to violence being committed by Israeli settlers.

The meeting with Abbas, whose Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has not been a factor in Gaza since Hamas took it over by force in 2007, came at the start of Blinken’s third day of an intense Middle East tour – his second since the war began with a surprise Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Blinken had visited Israel and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday before decamping to Jordan for meetings with senior Arab officials on Saturday.

At each stop, Blinken has offered firm U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself but also stressed that it must adhere to the laws of war, protect civilians and increase humanitarian aid supplies to Gaza. To do that, as well as to ease the flow of foreigners fleeing Gaza, he has made the case that Israel should implement rolling humanitarian pauses to its airstrikes and ground operations, something that Netanyahu has thus far flatly rejected.

U.S. officials believe that Netanyahu may soften his opposition if he can be convinced that it is in Israel’s strategic interests to ease the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. The soaring death toll has sparked growing international anger, with tens of thousands from Washington to Berlin taking to the streets over the weekend to demand an immediate cease-fire.


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