Saturday, February 24, 2024

US slams Israeli settlements but stresses Washington’s support for Tel Aviv

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has criticized Israeli policies, including settlement expansion and home demolitions, as detrimental to the two-state solution. Still, at a news conference at the end of his trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, he reasserted Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel.

“The United States is committed to working toward our enduring goal of ensuring that Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice and dignity,” Blinken said, stressing the need for preserving the “vision” of the two-state solution.

“The United States will continue to oppose anything that puts that goal further from reach, including but not limited to settlement expansion and the legalisation of illegal outposts, moves towards annexation of the West Bank, disruption to the historic status quo on Jerusalem’s holy sites, demolitions and evictions and incitement and acquiescence to violence,” he added.

Rights advocates have long urged Washington to press Israel to end its abuses against Palestinians.

The US provides at least $3.8bn in military aid to Israel each year while pushing to block international efforts to denounce Israeli violations, including at the United Nations.

Successive US administrations, including that of President Joe Biden, have maintained unconditional support for Israel as they rhetorically back the two-state solution — a prospect that many experts say is no longer realistic because of Israel’s settlement policies.

“I reaffirmed to Israel and its people the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. The rising tide of violence has resulted in the loss of many innocent lives on both sides,” Blinken stated on Tuesday.

Blinken met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in occupied Ramallah earlier in the day.

Last week, Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. A day later, a Palestinian gunman fatally shot eight Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem.

Abbas’s office released a statement via the Palestinian news agency WAFA, blaming Israel for the recent crisis and accusing it of stifling the two-state solution and violating international law.

“This comes at a time when Israel continues — without any deterrent or accountability — its unilateral operations, including settlements, de-facto annexation, settler terrorism,” the Palestinian president said.

Abbas also decried that Israel was “violating the historic status quo and breaching the Al-Aqsa Mosque” and “withholding [Palestinian] funds, along with policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid”.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians spiked earlier this month after an ultranationalist minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in a move condemned by Palestinian and Arab leaders as a “provocation”.

On Tuesday, Abbas implicitly hit out at US opposition to a Palestinian diplomatic push to seek accountability for Israeli abuses.

“The continued opposition to the efforts of the Palestinian people to defend their existence and their legitimate rights in international forums and courts, and to provide international protection for our people, is a policy that encourages the Israeli occupier to commit more crimes and violates international law,” Abbas added.

In his news conference, Blinken said Washington’s immediate priority is “restoring calm” and defusing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians before pushing towards a long-term settlement.

Blinken added that he asked members of his team to stay in the region to help with that aim.

Earlier in the day, he noted the US is working to reopen a consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem – a Biden campaign pledge that remains unfulfilled amid Israeli opposition. Former President Donald Trump had shut down the US diplomatic mission for Palestinians as he all but severed ties with the Palestinian leadership.

On Tuesday, Blinken stated Washington seeks to “rebuild” its relationship with Palestinians and the Palestinian Authoridy.

The top US diplomat did not mention Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a US citizen who was fatally shot by Israeli forces last year, in public statements while in Israel.

Asked whether Blinken raised the killing of Abu Akleh with Israeli officials, a US Department of State spokesperson referred Al Jazeera to “public readouts” of the top diplomat’s meetings. Available readouts did not mention the slain journalist.

Blinken noted on Tuesday that he discussed with Israeli officials deepening cooperation to counter Iran amid the stalling of diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that saw Tehran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against its economy.

“We continued what has been an ongoing discussion of ways that we can continue to work together, collaborate — and not just us, with other countries — in countering the malicious actions that Iran is engaged in, whether it’s in this region or beyond,” Blinken told reporters.

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