RAMALLAH — During a trip to the West Bank on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he saw a "shrinking horizon of hope” for Palestinians and urged both sides to take steps to de-escalate the violence that has gripped the region in recent days.
Blinken acknowledged that his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah came at a "challenging time." The violence spiked last week when the Israel military carried out what it described as a counterterrorism raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, a known hotbed of militant activity, killing nine Palestinians.
The next day, a Palestinian gunman killed seven and injured several others outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet responded by pledging new counterterrorism measures “to fight terrorism and exact a price from terrorists and those who support them."
Blinken’s visit with the 87-year-old Palestinian leader came as part of a three-day trip to the region that began in Egypt for meetings with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other Egyptian officials. After arriving in Israel on Monday, Blinken held talks with Netanyahu and members of his newly installed right-wing government.
Just in — Blinken announces $50M to UNRWA, says the US will “continue to work” to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem pic.twitter.com/YfHQM2v356— Elizabeth Hagedorn (@ElizHagedorn) January 31, 2023
The ruling coalition — the most right-wing and religious in Israel's history — includes ultranationalist members who have advocated for a major expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and changing the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Blinken reiterated the Biden administration's support for a two-state solution to the long-running conflict and condemned actions that he said would undermine that goal, including Israeli settlement expansion, home demolitions and evictions, the legalization of outposts and disruptions to the historic status quo.
While in Ramallah, Blinken announced $50 million in new funding for the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, which provides food assistance and essential services to registered Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
He also said the Biden administration would “continue to work” on reopening the US Consulate in Jerusalem, but declined to give a timeframe. The consulate had long served as a de facto American embassy for the Palestinians until it was shuttered by former President Donald Trump in 2019. The current administration has yet to fulfill a campaign pledge to reopen it.
Earlier Tuesday, Blinken held separate meetings in Jerusalem with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and opposition leader Yair Lapid. He also met with Palestinian and Palestinian-American civil society leaders in the West Bank town of Deir Dibwan.
As Blinken concludes his three-day-trip to the Middle East, a senior State Department official told reporters that Assistant Secretary of State for Near East affairs Barbara Leaf and Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr will stay in the region, as the US tries to contain the renewed cycle of escalation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.