Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged on a Middle East mission on Tuesday that Washington would provide new aid to help rebuild Gaza as part of efforts to bolster a ceasefire between its Hamas rulers and Israel.
Hoping to reverse a move taken by former president Donald Trump that angered Palestinians, Blinken said the United States would advance the process of re-opening the Jerusalem consulate that had served as its diplomatic channel to the Palestinians.
Blinken began his regional visit in Jerusalem, where he held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, speaking to reporters with the top US diplomat at his side, threatened a “very powerful response” if Hamas renewed cross-border rocket strikes.
The truce, brokered by Egypt and coordinated with the US, began on Friday after 11 days of the worst fighting between Palestinian fighters and Israel in years. Now in its fifth day, it has been holding.
“We know that to prevent a return to violence we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” Blinken said.
“And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”
“There’s a paradigm shift in the global conversation & Palestine matters”HANAN ASHRAWI
Speaking alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Blinken said re-opening the US Consulate General in Jerusalem would be “an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people”.
The Trump administration merged the consulate with the US Embassy in Israel in 2019, two years after recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and later moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Those moves broke with long-standing US policy and infuriated Palestinians, who seek East Jerusalem as capital of a future state.
Israel deems all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, as its undivided capital.
Biden has no plans to reverse the embassy relocation but has moved in the early months of his term to repair relations with Palestinians.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Abbas thanked the US “for its commitment to the two-state solution [and maintaining] the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif,” a Jerusalem compound holy to Muslims and Jews that contains Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.
Blinken said the US would provide an additional $75 million in development and economic aid to the Palestinians in 2021, $5.5m in immediate disaster relief for Gaza and $32m to UN Palestinian aid agency. But Blinken reiterated that Washington intended to ensure that Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organization, did not benefit from the humanitarian aid.
Abbas thanked Blinken for what he called American support “for the preservation of [Palestinian] residents of … Sheikh Jarrah,” an East Jerusalem neighborhood where the potential evictions of Palestinian families helped spark the Israel-Gaza fighting.
After speaking to officials from Gaza and Israel, Blinken said the Biden administration believes “Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely.”
Blinken said a two-state solution is the only way forward in Mideast and Washington backs the two-state solution to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians if the right conditions are met.
“I’m here to underscore the commitment of the United States to rebuilding the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people.”
Blinken also stated the US is committed to helping Gaza rebuild.
In April, Biden restored hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid cut by Trump.