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Blinken wraps up visit to Jerusalem, West Bank amid high tensions

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ended without progress due to deep differences on several key issues in March 2014, since which Washington has made no real push to renew the stalled peace process despite the recurrent violence and conflicts.

IANS | New Delhi |

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has concluded his visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank, with little progress made in de-escalating the Israeli-Palestinian tensions, experts said.

Blinken’s trip, during which he met with leaders of the Jewish state’s new right-wing government and the Palestinian Authority (PA), came amid escalating violence between the two sides, reports Xinhua news agency.

Since the start of 2023, Israeli forces have killed at least 35 Palestinians, making January one of the most deadly months in the West Bank in recent years.

Most casualties occurred during Israeli military raids, which Israel says aimed to detain Palestinian militants.

In retaliation, a shooting attack launched by a Palestinian gunman outside a synagogue in an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem claimed the lives of seven people on January 27.

On Monday, Blinken held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and other senior officials before travelling on Tuesday to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In both places, Blinken urged de-escalating the tensions and renewed the call for a two-state solution to the conflict.

“The rising tide of violence has resulted in the loss of many innocent lives on both sides,” he told reporters in Jerusalem on Tuesday before he left for the US.

“All sides must take steps to prevent further escalation of violence.”

The top US diplomat’s trip failed to offer any new initiative to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Michael Milshtein, an expert from the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at the Tel Aviv University, told Xinhua.

Milshtein said the Israeli government was hopeful that Blinken will exert pressure on Abbas to renew the security coordination between the PA and Israel.

The PA decided on January 26 to end security coordination with Israel in response to an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, in which Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians.

The security coordination has led to the arrests of some Palestinians who were allegedly planning attacks against Israelis.

In a statement issued after meeting with Blinken, Abbas made no indication he was going to resume the coordination.

He accused Israel of violating Palestinians’ rights, promoting annexation of the West Bank, and demolishing Palestinian homes — moves that pose further hurdles to achieving a peace deal.

“We have found that the Israeli government is responsible for what’s happening these days,” the President said.

Assaf Meydani, a professor at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy of the Reichman University in Herzliya, told Xinhua that “negotiations between Israel and the PA in the current situation is impossible, even the US knows it”.

On the other hand, Blinken’s visit also had limited impact on the Israeli side, which has a new hawkish government that is unlikely to dial down its position against the Palestinians.

“The situation inside Israel makes the current government go to more ‘extreme’ to ensure its survival for the longest possible period, and therefore it will continue to escalate, and in return, there will be a Palestinian reaction,” said Ghassan al-Khatib, a political science professor at the Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The visit, which marked the first meeting between Blinken and Netanyahu since the latter returned to office in December as the leader of a new right-wing government, was seen as part of Washington’s efforts to navigate through the differences between the Biden administration and the new Israeli government.

His trip followed the visits to Jerusalem by Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA Director William Burns earlier in January.

Al-Khatib also noted that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a priority for the US as its attention is occupied by “other internal and external issues.”

The Palestinians have repeatedly called on Washington, as Blinken promised in 2021, to reopen the US consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem and the PLO office in Washington.

They also urged the US to pressure Israel to preserve the status quo in Jerusalem and stop Israeli unilateral measures or withholding Palestinian tax revenue dues.

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ended without progress due to deep differences on several key issues in March 2014, since which Washington has made no real push to renew the stalled peace process despite the recurrent violence and conflicts.