Blinken visits the Palestinian West Bank and meets with Abbas


Maisoon Ali, a Palestinian banker, has a message for visiting US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

She wants him to understand and acknowledge that the vision of an independent Palestinian nation existing alongside Israel, the two-state solution favored for years by most US administrations, is dead and buried.

“He’s been killed,” said Ali, 56. “I can’t even dream it. I don’t see it… This is what I want the secretary to hear.”

Blinken, who ended a three-day visit to the Middle East on Tuesday, met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a day after lengthy consultations with Prime Minister President and Foreign Minister of Israel.

Abbas, 87, had harsh words for Israel, its continued occupation of the Palestinian territories and the failure of the “international community” to stop Israel’s actions to seize land claimed by the Palestinians and thwart the Authority’s efforts. Palestine to find justice in international forums. efforts that Washington strongly opposes.

At every step of this visit, Blinken has reiterated his government’s longstanding support for a two-state solution, even as its prospects seem more distant than ever for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The far right that now rules Israel has long opposed independence for the estimated 4.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

For the Palestinians themselves, the rejection of the two-state solution has been a slower evolution.

In an independent Palestine alongside Israel, which has insisted on retaining control of some of the future state’s borders and airspace, “we would just have the name, Israel the power,” said Mohammed Mustafa, 80, another Palestinian resident. To go. Dibwan, who lived in the US for many years and said that he fought for the US Army in Vietnam.

Years of failed negotiations, occasionally in bad faith, interspersed with periods of violence on both sides, have achieved only a modicum of sovereignty for the Palestinians, while Israel continues to allow tens of thousands of Jewish settlers to move onto West Bank land. Heavily guarded Israeli settlements have made the creation of a contiguous state impossible.

“The two-state solution was scrapped by the Israelis,” Ali said. “I know [Blinken] you know it doesn’t work. … I hope the American government will take a stand and say that he has been killed by Israel.”

Ali was born in this prosperous town near Ramallah, densely populated by Palestinian Americans, and lived in the United States for more than half of his life. She has a US passport but, due to her Palestinian birth, she cannot use Israel’s airport and suffers other humiliations, she said.

Opinion polls have shown that support for the two-state vision is steadily declining among Palestinians, reflecting frustration and a sense that a viable state will never be achieved. Instead, many Palestinians now support the so-called one-state solution, one country with Israelis and Palestinians but, more importantly, with equal rights for both communities. At the same time, most doubt that Israel will ever grant such freedoms to the Palestinians.

A set of calculations behind that scenario suggests that Palestinians, with a higher birth rate, would eventually outnumber Israeli Jews. Not granting full rights to the majority would, in theory, be untenable, but so would the ability to maintain Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.

The latest poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Polls, conducted in December and released last week, showed that support for a two-state solution, which in 2020 was about 43% for both Palestinians and Israelis, it had fallen to 33%. among Palestinians and 34% among Israelis.

It was the lowest level of support for the concept among both groups since the poll was first conducted in June 2016, the center’s director, Khalil Shikaki, said in a statement.

“The hardening of attitudes is driven by deep concerns about the other side’s ultimate goals,” he said. “Indeed, perceptions of the other have worsened significantly since mid-2017 and are currently at an all-time low, with the two sides a mirror image of each other.”

After his meeting with Blinken, Abbas also blamed Israel for destroying the two-state solution and stoking violence in the West Bank. But he said he was willing to work with the United States to open dialogue and “end the occupation.”

Standing with Abbas at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah to read remarks to reporters, Blinken said improvements in living conditions and prosperity and peace for the Palestinians would be “best achieved” through a two-state solution.

But he recognized the possibilities of deterioration.

“What we are seeing is a narrowing horizon of hope, not one that is expanding,” he said. “And that has to change”.

The secretary of state said he was assigning two senior staffers, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hamy Amr, to stay on and continue working to calm the tensions. Although Blinken said the effort would build on ideas he and officials had presented on the trip, the move could also reflect a lack of progress.

Blinken traveled to the West Bank in a convoy of armored trucks and SUVs, driving on a well-maintained road walled on both sides that heads north from Jerusalem. Palestinians are not allowed to use the road without special permission, even if it runs through their land. Some exits are marked with red Israeli government signs that say, in three languages, “Entry of Israeli citizens is prohibited.”

Early Tuesday, Blinken met with the new Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, in Jerusalem. Before Blinken arrived, a reporter asked Gallant how the security situation in the West Bank was going. He said that the Israeli forces were “doing what is necessary against terrorism.”

After a Palestinian gunman shot and killed seven Jews on Friday in a synagogue near Jerusalem, the Israeli army has continued a campaign of raids and arrests in parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem. The shooting at the synagogue came 24 hours after a deadly attack by Israeli forces in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Ten people were killed, most of whom Israel identified as Palestinian militants, but at least one civilian woman in her 60s.

Blinken did not condemn the attack on Jenin, but on Tuesday lamented the deaths of “innocent civilians” and said both sides must refrain from unilateral action.

However, it is unclear how much control the aging Abbas and the rebellious Palestinian Authority have over events in the West Bank. Abbas is seen by many Palestinians as an unpopular leader who has overstayed his time in office and become ineffective. He has held office for more than a decade after his tenure and refused to hold an election. Meanwhile, he has clamped down on critical media, dissidents and opponents. Other militant groups not loyal to the Palestinian Authority have emerged in the West Bank and are more willing to use force to press their cause.

Asked if he trusted Abbas to fight terrorism and effectively promote the Palestinian state, Blinken told a news conference at the end of his trip that he would focus on what the Palestinian Authority does rather than the actions of the leaders. individual.

“We are focused on what the Palestinian Authority is doing both to work to improve the lives of the Palestinian people and to engage responsibly with Israel, first and foremost, to defuse the current situation, the current cycle of violence; reduce tensions, not increase them; calming things down, not escalating things,” Blinken said.

During his appearance with Abbas, Blinken urged the Palestinian Authority to strengthen its governance institutions and practices.

Riman Barakat, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, does not have to deal directly with the Palestinian Authority. But she knows how discouraged her citizens have been by the repression and incompetence of officials. But Barakat, who runs the Palestinian program at a multi-ethnic cultural center on the Israel-West Bank line in Jerusalem, blames more on the Biden administration’s almost unconditional support for Israel.

“A lot of people have given up hope that different officials will come and go,” he said. “With every new administration, the president has to come here, but nothing ever comes of it. No results. We’ll believe it when we see it.”

Barakat said President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to close the US consulate in Jerusalem that served Palestinians was a heavy blow, because he ignored Palestinian claims about parts from Jerusalem.

“It was very violative,” he said.

But worse, he said, is the Biden administration’s broken promise to reopen the consulate.

“The bar for hope is now very low,” he said.


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