Top US and UK diplomats visit Israel

What happened: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday following the latest escalation between Israel and Hamas. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also arrived in Israel last night and is expected to do the same today.

  • Following their meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu highlighted three points:
    • He thanked the US for supporting Israel’s right of self-defence, recalling it was Blinken, in a previous capacity in 2014, who had personally ensured the speedy replenishment of Iron Dome missiles, worth a quarter of a billion dollars.
    • On Iran, Netanyahu reiterated his hopes that the US will not return to the JCPOA nuclear deal because “that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy”.
    • Netanyahu added: “The third point is peace. We need to work together to expand normalisation between Israel and the Arab and the Muslim world and deepen the peace treaties that we already have.”
  • Blinken reiterated the US “fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks such as the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas indiscriminately against Israeli civilians”.
  • In Ramallah, Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Abbas thanked the US “for its commitment to a two-state solution, and the maintenance of the status quo in Jerusalem, and to keep the residents of Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah in their homes … for its position vis-a-vis the expansion of settlements, and the actions taken by settlers.”
  • Abbas committed to assist the “reconstruction of Gaza and also to establish a national unity government … our first condition would be that Hamas and all parties have to abide by international legitimacy resolutions.”
  • He added, “We have postponed the elections, because Israel has refused to include Jerusalem in these elections, and the minute that it does we will hold them immediately and without any delay, because ultimately what we’re interested in is to establish democracy throughout Palestine.”
  • Blinken told Abbas that “the last round of violence is symptomatic of a larger set of issues that we have to address if we’re going to prevent its recurrence, and that’s what we talked about today”.
  • Blinken committed $360m to the PA for humanitarian aid and rebuilding of the Gaza Strip, but cautioned, “We will work with partners to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from these reconstruction efforts” to ensure, “what is rebuilt is not lost again because Hamas decides to launch more rocket attacks in the future”.
  • While in Ramallah Blinken also met Palestinian civil society leaders, committing “to renew ties between the US and the Palestinian people, and to build on those ties going forward”.
  • Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also spoke today with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed. The Secretary and Foreign Minister expressed their support for the ceasefire between Israel, Hamas, and other parties in Gaza. Secretary Blinken thanked the Foreign Minister for the UAE’s efforts to de-escalate the conflict and discussed the need to explore new paths to achieve peace. The Secretary also raised the importance of reconstruction efforts in Gaza.
  • On arrival last night Foreign Secretary Raab released a statement: “The events of the last month demonstrate the urgent need to make genuine progress towards a more positive future for both Israelis and Palestinians … the UK supports a two-state solution as the best way to deliver a lasting peace.”

Context: During Blinken’s first trip to the region as secretary of state, he outlined four objectives:

  1. To start to work toward greater stability and reduce tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem;
  2. To support the humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Gaza to benefit the Palestinian people;
  3. To continue to rebuild US relationship with the Palestinian people and the PA.
  4. To demonstrate American commitment to Israel’s security;
  • It appears the US is ready to reengage in efforts to advance a two-state solution. Blinken said that he made it clear to both sides that the US is opposed to unilateral moves, “that includes settlement activity, demolitions, evictions, incitement to violence, and payment to terrorists”.
  • On Iran, Israel and US still strongly disagree over the validity of returning to the JCPOA nuclear agreement.  However, Blinken maintained that Israel and US “share exactly the same goal” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
  • He explained that the US is keen to return to the JCPOA because it “cut off all of Iran’s pathways to produce fissile material … and it pushed the amount of time it would take Iran to develop that material for a nuclear weapon, to beyond a year”.
  • He noted that since the US pulled out of the agreement, Iran is now closer to a nuclear weapon “that only underscores the importance and, indeed, urgency in seeing if we can get Iran back into compliance with the agreement, to put Iran back in the nuclear box that the deal constructed”.
  • However, Blinken cautioned that the negotiating partners in Vienna still don’t know if Iran is willing and able to come back into full compliance with the JCPOA. “The jury is still out, and we will see whether or not Iran makes that decision.”
  • Netanyahu reiterated that “whatever happens, Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself against a regime committed to our destruction”.

Looking ahead: Blinken met with President Rivlin this morning and will then continue his regional tour to Egypt and Jordan. Until the recent hostilities, the Biden administration had not engaged substantially with the Egyptian leadership but has come to appreciate their role in securing the ceasefire.

  • During their meeting this morning Blinken invited President Rivlin to Washington to meet with US President Joe Biden
  • Foreign Minister Rabb is expected to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and PA Chairman Abbas in Ramallah today.
  • Blinken committed to reopening a US consul to the PA but refused to “put a timeline on it”.
  • In their meeting, Blinken and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi agreed to establish a working group with a goal of implementing joint projects in the West Bank between Israel and the PA including economic, civil and security cooperation.

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