Blinken Heads to West Bank After Surge in Violence
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken headed to the occupied West Bank on Tuesday to meet with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in the final stop of a whirlwind effort to help ebb a spasm of tensions in the region.
The two are to meet in Ramallah, the authority’s administrative hub, after one of the deadliest months in the West Bank in several years. More than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in January, mostly during Israeli military raids aimed at quelling a growing insurgency and arresting Palestinian gunmen.
The violence has also seeped into Jerusalem, where a Palestinian attacker shot dead seven civilians outside a synagogue in an Israeli settlement on Sunday night — the worst attack in the city since 2008 — amid fears of an even worse escalation in coming weeks.
The meeting comes a day after Mr. Blinken met in Jerusalem with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and called on both Israelis and Palestinians to reduce tensions.
Mr. Blinken’s meeting with Mr. Abbas is likely to be tense. Palestinian officials say they hope Mr. Blinken will announce a new approach to ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and where hundreds of thousands of Israelis have since settled alongside millions of Palestinians.
A New Surge of Israeli-Palestinian Violence
- A Turbulent Moment: The recent spasm of violence in Israel and the West Bank has left seven Israelis and at least 14 Palestinians dead.
- Fueling Tensions: The roots of the violence predate Israel’s new far-right government, but analysts fear the administration’s ministers and goals will further inflame the situation.
- Blinken’s Visit: Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s trip to Israel comes as the bloody episodes have U.S. officials concerned about a potential major escalation in the country.
But Mr. Blinken is likely to repeat familiar talking points, including support for the concept of establishing a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one, but avoid announcing practical steps toward that goal, such as the revival of peace negotiations that halted nearly a decade ago.
Distracted by other global challenges, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and amid Israeli opposition to Palestinian sovereignty as well deep rifts in Palestinian society, the Biden administration has not prioritized the restoration of the peace process.
Mr. Blinken is expected to push the Palestinian leadership to help reduce tensions in the West Bank, which in 2022 saw the highest Palestinian death toll — more than 170 were killed, often during Israeli operations to arrest gunmen — in more than half a decade.
Speaking in Jerusalem on Monday, Mr. Blinken said that he would tell Mr. Abbas, as he had Mr. Netanyahu, that it was “incumbent on all parties to take urgent steps to de-escalate tension and establish conditions for the security and stability that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve.”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Blinken met with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has helped to mediate two cease-fires between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza since Mr. Biden took office. Mr. Blinken later told reporters he had discussed the current crisis with the Egyptian leader.
New armed groups of young Palestinians, chafing under occupation and the creation of a two-tier legal system that distinguishes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, emerged last year, increasing the number of Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
But Mr. Abbas is in a weak position to ensure order. The Palestinian Authority administers most Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank, but its grip on areas outside Ramallah, where Mr. Abbas is accused of autocratic behavior, is loosening, particularly in cities like Jenin and Nablus, where the most active insurgents are based.
Mr. Abbas has long avoided fully enforcing the authority’s control in those cities, where public resentment of the body is already high, amid widespread perception that it is corrupt and maintains too close a relationship with Israel. On Saturday, the authority released a statement holding Israel responsible for the escalation, ignoring Israeli calls for the Palestinian leadership to condemn Palestinian violence.
After months of public pressure, Mr. Abbas last week scaled back the authority’s coordination with the Israeli security services, following an Israeli operation in Jenin to arrest several gunmen that left 10 Palestinians dead. Despite U.S. pressure to restore the coordination mechanism, analysts say Mr. Abbas may be reluctant to do so without some kind of Israeli or American concession to the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials have said they would ask the International Criminal Court to investigate the Jenin operation, a move the Biden administration opposes. Last week, a State Department spokesman, Vedant Patel, told reporters that the United States did not believe that “multilateral fora” were appropriate for such pursuits, saying that Israel and the Palestinians should work directly with one another to determine any accountability in such cases.
Though the Biden administration has restored funding to Palestinian institutions that was cut during the Trump administration, Palestinian officials are frustrated that the president has not repealed other Trump-era policies that the Palestinians deem obstacles to statehood.
Mr. Biden has not formally canceled a Trump administration decision to legitimize Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal. Following Israeli pressure, he has not reopened the U.S. consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Palestinian mission in Washington, both of which were closed under Mr. Trump.