DEIR DIBWAN, West Bank — As a member of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s traveling press pool this week, I had an up-close view as America’s top diplomat swung through the Middle East to meet with three presidents in three cities in just three days. But it was Maisoon Ali, a Palestinian-American bank employee in the West Bank, whose story stood out to me.
Ali, 56, lives down the street from where Blinken met on Tuesday with Palestinian civil society workers in Deir Dibwan, an upscale neighborhood east of Ramallah that is surrounded by Jewish settlements. The area is home to many Palestinian-Americans who, despite their US passports, face onerous restrictions on their travel.
Ali spent over 30 years in northern Virginia before moving to the West Bank to care for her elderly father. She paid close attention as Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials in Jerusalem this week.
“Mr. Secretary of State told Netanyahu, ‘I would like to see the Palestinians have equal rights.’ Well, I'm telling him: give me my equal rights. Let me be treated like any other Israeli,” Ali said.
In talks with leaders from both sides this week, Blinken said Israelis and Palestinians deserved “equal rights and opportunities,” and that an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel was the best way to achieve that.
“I know that he knows it’s not working,” said Ali. “The two-state solution is killed. I cannot even dream of it.”
Her pessimism is shared by both Palestinians and Israelis. A joint Palestinian-Israeli survey released last week found that support for the two-state solution has reached a record low. Roughly one-third of Palestinians and one-third of Jewish Israelis back Palestinian statehood, and a majority on both sides fear a new intifada is coming.
Coalition partners in Netanyahu’s newly installed government reject the premise of Palestinian statehood, and have advocated steps that the Biden administration says would undermine its prospects.
"We've been clear that this includes things like settlement expansion, the legalization of outposts, demolitions and evictions, disruptions to the historic status of the holy sites, and of course incitement and acquiescence to violence," Blinken said.
The armored motorcade carrying Blinken, his aides and a pack of us reporters took him from Jerusalem to the West Bank on Tuesday, where the secretary held a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Mukataa, the Palestinian Authority compound in Ramallah.
Sitting feet from Blinken with the Palestinian flag and a gold-framed photo of the Dome of Rock behind him, Abbas told a crowded room of reporters that he believed Israel’s practices undermine the two-state solution. Speaking through a translator, Abbas said he was ready to work with the Biden administration “to restore political dialogue in order to end the Israeli occupation.”
Addressing reporters after Abbas, Blinken announced new funding for the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency and said the administration would continue working to reopen the consulate that had long served as the de facto US embassy for the Palestinians before it was shuttered by the Trump administration. It remains closed, despite a Biden campaign pledge to restore it.
Blinken also called for improvements to the Palestinian Authority’s governance and acccountability. Abbas, at age 87, is deeply unpopular among Palestinians who remain frustrated by his inability to bring about change, as well as his refusal to hold general elections.
Strengthening the institutions of the PA would not only improve Palestinians’ lives but “lay the groundwork for a democratic Palestinian state,” Blinken said after meeting Abbas.
His pre-planned trip to Israel and the West Bank, which also included a stop in Egypt, came amid a surge of violence that began with a deadly Israeli raid targeting militants in the flashpoint city of Jenin last week. The next day, a Palestinian man opened fire outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem, killing seven Israelis in the city’s deadliest attack on civilians in 15 years.
Blinken acknowledged that “restoring calm” was the Biden administration's immediate concern but said “over the longer term, we have to do more than just lower tensions.” He said he heard “concrete ideas” from both Palestinian and Israeli officials, but did not outline them for reporters.
As Blinken departed for Washington on Tuesday night, the State Department’s top Middle East official, Barbara Leaf, and its special envoy for the Palestinians, Hady Amr, stayed behind to work with both parties on defusing the tensions, a senior State Department official said.
One Palestinian source familiar with the Blinken-Abbas meeting was not optimistic, telling The Takeaway, “I think the Americans are managing the crisis — not solving it.”
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US officials mum on Iran attack
The deputy commander of CENTCOM says the US military was not involved in the suspected Israeli drone attack on a missile facility in central Iran over the weekend. Following the late Saturday attack in Isfahan, airstrikes likely launched by Israel targeted Iran-linked convoys in Syria’s southeastern border area with Iraq.
In an exclusive interview, Al-Monitor's Jared Szuba asked Lt. Gen. Gregory M. Guillot whether his command was notified of those operations in advance. “All I can tell you is that the US was not involved in either of those strikes,” Guillot said.
The attacks come as Iran faces increasing international pressure for its violent crackdown on anti-government protests and its provision of armed drones to Russia.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to comment on the Isfahan strike but told Al-Monitor in a news conference in Cairo on Monday that it’s important the United States “deal with and work against, as necessary” Iran’s actions that “threaten peace and security and human life.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah to meet with Biden
President Joe Biden will welcome Jordanian King Abdullah to the White House on Thursday for talks expected to cover the latest Palestinian-Israeli bloodshed and the economic fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Their meeting comes less than two weeks after Abdullah sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Jordanian capital of Amman for discussions about the sensitive Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. Jordan, the custodian of the site, has warned Israel's new right-wing government against violating the historic status quo that bars Jewish worshipers from praying there.
Abdullah, who last visited Washington in May, also met this week with Congressional leaders including Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez.
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