Blinken during his meeting with Abbas in Ramallah on January 31, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is wrapping up a two-day visit to Israel and West Bank on Tuesday with renewed appeals for Israeli-Palestinian calm amid an alarming spike of violence.

Blinken met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Tuesday, a day after seeing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Standing alongside the Israeli leader, Blinken stressed the importance the Biden administration places on resolving the long-running conflict with a two-state solution.

Blinken expressed “condolences and sorrow for the innocent Palestinian civilians who have lost their lives in escalating violence over the last year”.

Blinken also warned Israeli and Palestinian leaders against any moves that makes a two-state solution to the conflict “more difficult”.

Addressing Israel’s new hardline right-wing government, whose leader and ministers he met during his visit, Blinken said that list includes “settlement expansion, the legalisation of outposts, demolitions and evictions”.

The government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly backs expanding the Jewish settler presence across the West Bank, communities considered illegal under international law.

However, beyond urging a de-escalation of tensions, Blinken offered no new US initiative to do so. There were no signs that Blinken was making progress on even the modest goal of halting the latest wave of violence, much less of addressing the broader issues surrounding peace talks.

Abbas placed all blame for the spike in violence on Israel and berated the international community for not doing more to pressure Israel.

“We affirm that the Israeli government is responsible for what is happening today,” he said, adding: “Israel is being overlooked, without deterrence or accountability, as it continues its unilateral operations.”

He called for the “complete cessation” of those operations, saying that would be “the main entry point for returning the political horizon.”

Netanyahu’s far-right government is dominated by hardliners who oppose Palestinian statehood and are unlikely to make even minimal concessions.

Security situation

Blinken’s visit comes amid one of the deadliest periods of fighting in years in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The violence has further complicated the administration’s already difficult attempts to find common ground with Netanyahu’s government.

Before heading to the West Bank, Blinken met with Israel’s opposition leader, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

“The secretary conveyed his concern over the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank and the need for urgent action to prevent greater loss of life. Secretary Blinken reiterated that Israelis and Palestinians deserve to have equal measures of security, prosperity and freedom,” his office said.

Following a meeting with Blinken on Monday, Netanyahu made only passing reference to the Palestinians and focused instead on Iran, which he believes is his most urgent security priority.

Netanyahu’s coalition partners also gave a cool reception to Blinken’s comments.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the ultranationalist Jewish Power party, vowed to push forward with punitive measures against the Palestinians in response to a pair of shootings in east Jerusalem over the weekend. Ben-Gvir has pledged to demolish Palestinian homes and hand out more weapons to Israeli civilians.

During his appearance with Netanyahu, Blinken voiced “support for core democratic principles and institutions,” including “the equal administration of justice for all, the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law.” Critics say Netanyahu’s plan will weaken the country’s judicial system and destroy its democratic system of checks and balances.