Blinken tries to build support among wary Arab countries for planning a postwar future for Gaza

AP , Saturday 4 Nov 2023

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought to build support Saturday for planning a postwar future for Gaza as he met with wary Arab leaders during his latest urgent mission to the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas conflict began.

Arab -US Meeting
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting with Jordan s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Saudi Arabia s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, Qatar s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Hussein al-Sheikh, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the Jordanian capital Amman on November 4, 2023. AP

 

His talks in Jordan's capital with the officials, angry and deeply suspicious of Israel as it intensifies military operations, came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu snubbed Blinken's blunt warning that Israel risks losing any hope of an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians unless it eases the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Blinken first meeting was with Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, whose economically and politically ravaged country is home to Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed force that is hostile to Israel. The United States has grave concerns that Hezbollah, which has stepped up rocket and cross-border attacks on northern Israel, will take a more active role in the Israel-Hamas war.

Hezbollah's chief, Hassan Nasrallah, on Friday gave his first major speech since the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, but did not forecast his group’s greater involvement even as he professed that Hezbollah was unperturbed by U.S. attempts to deter it.

Blinken thanked Mikati for his leadership “in preventing Lebanon from being pulled into a war that the Lebanese people do not want,” the U.S. State Department said. Blinken also discussed U.S. efforts to secure humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza.

Neither Blinken nor Mikati addressed reporters at the start of their meeting. Blinken did not speak publicly as he posed for pictures with Qatar’s foreign minister, whose country has emerged as the most influential interlocutor with Hamas. Qatar has been key to negotiating the limited release of hostages held by Hamas as well as persuading Hamas to allow foreign citizens to leave Gaza and cross into Egypt.

Blinken also met with the head of the U.N. agency in charge of assisting Palestinian refugees, thanking Phillipe Lazzarini for his group’s “extraordinary work every single day as a lifeline to Palestinians in Gaza and a great, a great cost.” The agency has seen about 70 staffers killed in the war so far and is running critically low on necessary supplies such as food, medicine and fuel.

Later, Blinken went into joint talks with the foreign ministers of Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the chair of the PLO executive committee. All have denounced Israel’s tactics against Hamas, which they say constitutes unlawful collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

The Saudi foreign ministry said the Arab officials discussed “the Arab passion calling for the cession of military operations ... and the immediate delivery of humanitarian aid" to the Gaza Strip as well as paving the way for “the return of stability and restoring the path for peace.”

While in Amman, Blinken planned to see Jordan's King Abdullah II, whose country this week recalled its ambassador to Israel and told Israel’s envoy not to return to Jordan until the Gaza crisis was over.

Blinken will go to Turkey on Sunday for meetings with President Recep Tayyep Erdogan and top officials on Monday, the State Department said. Turkey on Saturday followed Jordan’s lead and announced it had recalled its ambassador to Israel because of the situation in Gaza.

Arab states have thus far resisted American suggestions that they play a larger role in latest Mideast crisis, expressing outrage at the civilian toll of the Israeli military operations but believing Gaza to be a problem largely of Israel’s own making.

The group meeting with Blinken was convened by Jordan's foreign minister, Ayman al-Safadi, who said the gathering was organized “in the context of their efforts aimed at stopping the Israeli war on Gaza and the humanitarian catastrophe it is causing,” according to the ministry.

Egyptian officials said there is consensus among Arab governments involved in discussions with the U.S. to resist “any talks” on the postwar period in Gaza before establishing a cease-fire and allowing the delivery of more humanitarian aid and fuel to Gaza.

They said Egypt, in coordination with Qatar, has proposed humanitarian pauses of fighting for six hours to 12 hours every day to permit aid deliveries, evacuations of seriously injured to Egypt and the entry of fuel. The United Nations would oversee the delivery of fuel to hospitals and other vital civilian infrastructure.

U.S. officials believe Arab backing will be critical to efforts to ease the worsening conditions in Gaza and lay the groundwork for what would replace Hamas as the territory’s governing authority, if and when Israel succeeds in eradicating the group.

But ideas on Gaza’s future governance are few and far between. Blinken and other U.S. officials are offering a vague outline that it might include a combination of a revitalized Palestinian Authority, which has not been a factor in Gaza since 2007, with international organizations and potentially a peacekeeping force. U.S. officials acknowledge these ideas have been met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

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