Blinken sees a path to Gaza peace, reconstruction and regional security after his Mideast tour

AP , Thursday 11 Jan 2024

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up his latest urgent Mideast tour on Thursday in talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as American officials claimed modest success in getting wide regional support for planning for reconstruction and governance in Gaza after Israeli war on the Palestinian territory ends.

Antony Blinken
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to members of the media before boarding his plane to return to Washington, following his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday Jan. 11, 2024. AP

 

But progress is uncertain because Israel’s far-right government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not on board with several key points and it remains unclear if it can be convinced to accept them.

Still, Blinken secured buy-in from previously reluctant Arab and Muslim nations to begin post-war planning planning for Gaza in discussions with the leaders of Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Palestinian Authority over the weeklong mission, his fourth to the Middle East since the war began in October.

Winning approval for the consideration of post-conflict scenarios along with tamping down renewed fears that the Gaza war could spread were Blinken's main goals.

Each country — along with Greece, which Blinken also visited — pledged to participate in the general planning, although precise contributions have yet to be determined and Israel remained an outlier.

“On our previous trips here, I think there was a reluctance to talk about some of the day-after issues in terms of long-term stability and security on a regional basis,” Blinken told reporters at Cairo's airport after his meeting with el-Sissi. “But now we’re finding that our partners are very focused on that and wanting to engage on those questions.”

“They’re also clearly prepared to take steps to do things, to make commitments necessary both for Gaza's future and for long-term peace and security of the region,” Blinken said.

However, Arab support is contingent on not only the end of the conflict but also the establishment of a pathway for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, something that Netanyahu opposes.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private diplomatic talks, said the conversations Blinken had in Israel on Tuesday were the most difficult on the trip. But, they added, the talks had been successful in getting Israel to agree to a United Nations inspection team visit to northern Gaza to gauge whether it is safe for residents who fled the Israeli offensive to return.

Also key to the plan is the reform of the Palestinian Authority, which was the main agenda item at a summit held Wednesday in Aqaba between el-Sissi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We have a commitment from the Palestinian Authority to pursue meaningful reform,” Blinken said. Officials said the changes would include the appointment of a new technocratic government, a crackdown on corruption, judicial reform and an easing of media restrictions.

Blinken said Israel bolstering its security and the creation of a Palestinian state is the best way to thwart attacks from Iran’s regional proxies, like Hamas, Lebanon's Hezbollah, Yemen's Houthis and various militia that have staged attacks on U.S. and foreign interests in Iraq and Syria.

“The other path is to continue to see the terrorism, the denialism, and the destruction by Hamas, by the Houthis, by Hezbollah, all backed by Iran,” Blinken said.

He added that the current crisis had galvanized Arab backing to find a long-term solution that bolsters Israel's security, creates a Palestinian state and isolates Iran and its proxies.

“There’s a path that brings Israel’s needs and desires for integration in the region and genuine security with the Palestinian aspirations for a state of their own,” Blinken said. “You can’t have one without the other, and you can’t have either without a regional commitment to advancing on both tracks.”

He said there is "a greater willingness now of countries to make the hard decisions and do what’s necessary to advance on that track.”

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