Blinken off to Mideast to push peace talks after Gaza truce

Biden said Blinken will work with regional partners to ensure “the coordinated international effort to ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza.”

By Associated Press

Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to 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 when Hamas attacked Israel with an 11-day long rocket onslaught.

Hamas killed Israeli civilians with its rockets, while Arab mobs burned over 100 homes and more than 10 synagogues in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel.

The State Department said Blinken will visit Israel, including Judea and Samaria, 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 President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Jordanian King Abdullah II will focus on shoring up the cease-fire and sending urgent aid to Gaza, which is controlled by the brutal Hamas terror group, an Iran-backed entity that diverts aid to pursue attacks on Israeli civilians.

A senior 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 U.S. 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.

While Blinken will meet with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan, he will not meet with any Hamas terrorists.

Hamas is a U.S.-designated “foreign terrorist organization,” and contacts between American officials and the group are banned. That means the U.S. must rely on third countries like Egypt and Qatar to pass messages to Hamas. Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement are also involved in a bloody feud that has stretched on for over a decade, meaning that Palestinian leadership is split.

The senior State Department 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.