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With limited room for maneuver Blinken visits the Middle East


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The Secretary of State of the United States of America will arrive in Israel after first completing an important lightning visit to Egypt

By Athena Papakosta

While everyone fears a new escalation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Anthony Blinken is visiting Israel and the West Bank today and tomorrow. Will it be an easy visit? No. After all, it wasn’t even before the sharp escalation of the crisis. But it is definitely getting more complicated now.

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Anthony Blinken will arrive in Israel having first completed an important lightning visit to Egypt. He will meet today, Monday, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will also hold talks with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow in Ramallah. According to US officials the main topic of these meetings will be the need to de-escalate the new Israeli-Palestinian tension.

Israel woke up yesterday Sunday with the Security Council having met under Netanyahu and having decided on Saturday night a series of punitive measures against the Palestinians in response to the new tragedies of the last few days. In Jerusalem on Friday and Saturday, seven Israelis were killed and five wounded in two separate shooting attacks by Palestinians in retaliation for a raid by Israeli special forces in the Palestinian city of Jenin last Thursday in which ten Palestinians were killed. At the same time, and yesterday Sunday, Israeli security guards killed a Palestinian in the West Bank.

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“Our response will be strong, quick and precise. We are not seeking escalation but we are ready for any scenario,” the Israeli prime minister stressed while speaking to reporters. Already, the Israeli army is strengthening its forces in the occupied West Bank, while the security cabinet has decided to end the payment of benefits, social security and health insurance for “terrorist families”.

In the official announcement of the council, it is also noted that a bill will be submitted according to which the “Israeli identity cards” of the relatives of the “terrorists” will be removed and canceled. The Netanyahu government, being fully determined, as it states, to face the Palestinian attacks is relaxing even the conditions for gun ownership “to authorized citizens”. “This measure saves lives”, emphasized the Israeli Prime Minister while the country’s Minister of Internal Security, far-right Itamar Ben Gvir, emphasized that “I want guns on the street. I want Israeli citizens to be able to defend themselves”.

For their part, Palestinians and some humanitarian organizations believe that Israeli reprisals – including house demolitions – amount to collective punishment and are illegal under international law. “We are calling for de-escalation,” emphasized the United States Deputy Secretary of State for the Middle East, Barbara Leaf, knowing that the risk of a new war outbreak in the Middle East is now added to the already heavy agenda of Blinken’s visit.

In this difficult situation, therefore, the American Foreign Minister aims to put on the table two issues-priorities for Washington which, however, are two issues-thorns for Netanyahu. The first concerns the reinstatement of the 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and the second the restart of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Without expectations being high as to the slightest possibility of continuing negotiations on these issues, Blinken will attempt to keep these issues “alive” even with the help of… mechanical support.

At the same time, as far as the Palestinian side is concerned, ties with the US have relatively improved compared to those that existed during the American presidency of Donald Trump. Despite all this, the reopening of the American consulate in Jerusalem has not yet progressed, while the Palestinian mission in Washington has not been reopened due to objections from the Israeli side and legal obstacles from the American side. And on these issues the US Secretary of State is unlikely to be able to offer any sign of progress that the Palestinian side could welcome.

The latest developments in the region are an unpleasant headache for Washington and the conditions for any possible American initiative have not matured in any case. Blinken’s role will be more like that of firefighters. US influence will be used against the background of events for de-escalation, however, it will be limited because the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians appears once again to be at a stalemate and there are not a few who fear a repeat of May 2021. Nevertheless Washington is not expected to change its stance or position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is expected to reiterate its support for the “two-state” solution, which provides for the establishment of a Palestinian state…

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