Sunday, May 23, 2021

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirms two-state support ahead of Mideast tour

It is the only way to provide hope to Israelis, Palestinians that they can live "with equal measures of security, peace and dignity"

In this file photo, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab following their bilateral meeting in London on May 3, 2021, during the G7 foreign ministers meeting. — AFP

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking ahead of a trip to the Middle East, reaffirmed on Sunday US support for a two-state solution as the only way to provide hope to Israelis and Palestinians that they can live "with equal measures of security, of peace and dignity."

His remarks came days after Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire, halting 11 days of mutual bombardment that killed more than 200 Palestinians.

"If there isn't positive change, and particularly if we can't find a way to help Palestinians live with more — with more dignity and with more hope, this cycle is likely to repeat itself, and that is in no one's interest," Blinken said on ABC's "This Week."

The State Department announced Thursday that Blinken will travel to the Middle East "in the coming days", with plans to meet with Israeli, Palestinian and regional counterparts.

Blinken's support for a two-state solution — the vision of Israel and a Palestinian state living peacefully side by side — restates a long-time US goal, though he conceded that this was not "necessarily for today."

But his remarks about "equal measures" for Israelis and Palestinians seemed to shift the tone, at least, from Donald Trump's administration, which cut aid to the Palestinian Authority and issued a Middle East peace plan with strong Israeli backing but no support from Palestinians.

The top US diplomat emphasised the need to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians while beginning a major effort at reconstruction.

'Something more positive'

Saying the ceasefire would help mark a pivot from violence to "something more positive," he added, "That has to start now with dealing with the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza.

"Then reconstruction, rebuilding what's been lost, and critically, engaging both sides in trying to start to make real improvements" in people's lives.

He was asked on ABC how the Biden administration could ensure that aid would go to ordinary Palestinians and not help the Hamas militants who launched thousands of rockets at Israel.

"We've worked in the past and we continue to work with trusted, independent parties that can help do the reconstruction and the development, not some quasi- government authority," he said.

"The real challenge here is to help the Palestinians and particularly to help the Palestinian Authority deliver better results for their people, and of course, Israel has a profound role to play in that too."

Israel's response to the use of rockets by Hamas has drawn sharp criticism from some liberal members of the US Congress who have questioned American arms sales to the Jewish state.

Asked about that, Blinken replied, "The president has been clear we're committed to giving Israel the means to defend itself... At the same time, any arms sale will be done in full consultation in Congress."