Blinken Begins Middle East Visit Urging Calm

January 30, 2023

Secretary of State Antony Blinken appealed for calm from Israel and the Palestinians Monday as he arrived in Cairo ahead of a two-day visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Blinken’s urging came amid what he called a “new and horrifying surge in violence” last week which the Secretary said was imperative that both sides work to de-escalate.

“We will be encouraging the parties to take steps to calm things down,” Blinken told reporters at a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. “There is no question that this is a very difficult moment.”

At least seven people were shot and killed at a synagogue Jerusalem on Friday as they celebrated the Jewish sabbath. This followed a raid in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Jenin, in which nine Palestinians, including a 61-year-old woman and seven militants, were killed. 

The recent violence comes as Tor Wennesland, the Mideast envoy to the UN, said 2022 is on course to be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since the UN started tracking fatalities in 2005.

Blinken was set to meet Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was sworn into office for a sixth term at the end of December in what is shaping up to be Israeli’s most far-right leaning government in its history.

Blinken will reportedly aim to balance America’s close alliance with Israel against the Biden Administration’s concerns about Netanyahu’s government. Blinken is expected to address differences on several issues, including the judicial overhaul, relations with the Palestinians, Iran’s nuclear program and the war in Ukraine.

Blinken’s visit comes as Iran’s defense ministry says it has foiled a drone attack on a military facility in the city of Isfahan—which Israel is suspected of being behind. However, Israel so far has not taken credit for the attack.

On Tuesday, Blinken will hold talks in Ramallah with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian official now at The Washington Institute, said he expected Blinken to repeat traditional U.S. positions rather than break new ground.

“Blinken will ask Abbas to do more but it is not clear what they can do,” al-Omari told the British newspaper The Guardian, referring to the Palestinians, adding, “The trip itself is the message.”

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