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Biden sends Blinken to Mideast to push peace talks after Gaza truce

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken speaks at a news conference following meetings Tuesday in Reykjavik, Iceland.
(Saul Loeb / Pool Photo)

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is heading to the Middle East to press the Israelis, Palestinians and regional players to build on last week’s Gaza cease-fire by laying the groundwork for an eventual resumption in long-stalled peace talks.

President Biden announced that Blinken would depart Monday for a short visit to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt for what will be the Biden administration’s highest-level in-person meetings on the crisis that erupted earlier this month.

Blinken’s primary goal will be to shore up the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants, discuss an urgent infusion of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, stress the need for an end to violence between Jews and Arabs in Israeli cities and lay the preliminary groundwork for a return to peace talks, according to a senior State Department official.

In a statement, Biden said Blinken would also work with regional partners to ensure “the coordinated international effort to ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza.”

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Blinken is to meet with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan but will not see anyone from the militant Hamas movement that runs Gaza. Hamas is a U.S.-designated “foreign terrorist organization,” and contacts between American officials and the group are banned. That means the U.S. must rely on third countries such as Egypt and Qatar to relay messages to Hamas.

The administration has been roundly criticized for its perceived hands-off initial response to the deadly violence between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, including from Democratic allies in Congress who demanded that Biden take a tougher line on Israel and its heavy aerial assault on Gaza.

The administration has defended its response by saying that it engaged in intense, but quiet, high-level diplomacy to support a cease-fire, which was ultimately arranged last week after Egyptian mediation.

Blinken said Sunday that the behind-the-scenes effort led by Biden paid off, securing a truce after 11 days.

“President Biden leading this effort made the judgment that we could be most effective in doing that. And ultimately, after this intensive effort across the government, we got to where everyone wanted to be, which was to end the violence,” he said in an interview with CNN.

“But now, as the president said, I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to try to make the turn to start to build something more positive. And what that means at heart is that Palestinians and Israelis alike have to know, in their day-in and day-out lives, equal measures of opportunity, of security, of dignity,” Blinken said.

He said the time was not right for an immediate resumption in negotiations between the two sides but that steps could be taken — mainly humanitarian initiatives — to repair damage from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, which caused more than 200 deaths and significant damage to civilian infrastructure.

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“I don’t think we’re in a place where getting to some kind of a negotiation for what ultimately, I think, has to be the result, which is a two-state solution, is the first order of business,” he said. “We have to start building back in concrete ways and offering some genuine hope, prospects, opportunity in the lives of people.”


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