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Blinken Travels To Middle East To Shore Up Gaza Cease-Fire


Here is one thing that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is definitely not doing in a visit to Jerusalem. It's hard to see a way that Antony Blinken or any diplomat could significantly change the broad situation in the Middle East. Israelis and Palestinians have fought several wars, and a two-state solution is nowhere near. What Blinken is doing is addressing more immediate problems. NPR's Jackie Northam is in Jerusalem. Hey there, Jackie.


INSKEEP: What did Blinken say after meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister?

NORTHAM: Well, Blinken and Netanyahu said they both had good and extensive talks, which also included Iran. Netanyahu said he hoped the U.S. would not revive the nuclear agreement. But like you indicated, much of the conversation was about the recent battle between Israel and Hamas. Blinken reiterated what President Biden had said, that the U.S. believes Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks. But he also talked about the urgent need for humanitarian aid in Gaza and just finding a path forward to prevent another outbreak of fighting. And here's Blinken now.


ANTONY BLINKEN: There's a lot of hard work ahead to restore hope, respect and some trust across communities. But we've seen the alternative, and I think that should cause all of us to redouble our efforts to preserve the peace and improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

NORTHAM: Now, Steve, Netanyahu also talked about the need for peace, but he warned that if Hamas starts firing rockets again, Israel's response would be, quote, "very powerful."

INSKEEP: I feel the need to remind people of the basics when it comes to Palestinians. The Israeli war was against Hamas, which controls Gaza, but there are other Palestinians elsewhere and, of course, the Palestinian Authority, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Blinken is not going to meet with Hamas, but he's meeting with Abbas. What are Palestinians looking for there?

NORTHAM: You're right. I mean, he's heading out to Ramallah today to meet with President Abbas. And many Palestinians are looking for re-engagement with the U.S. You know, the Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. He made deep cuts in aid to Palestinians, among other things, so there's feeling of being cut off. I spoke with Ghassan Khatib. He's a political scientist at Birzeit University in the West Bank. And he told me that the Biden administration has talked about helping the Palestinians improve their living conditions and support their aspirations for an independent state. And here's what he had to say.

GHASSAN KHATIB: But still, they don't have a strategy to the conflict. And we're not sure yet whether they are going to invest the needed political capital for a solution or at least for reviving a political process.

NORTHAM: So you can see, you know, there's some interest in the new language used by the Biden administration. But there's still a lot of skepticism among Palestinians about the follow through.

INSKEEP: What does this trip by Blinken do, if anything, for Benjamin Netanyahu?

NORTHAM: Well, Netanyahu had a very close relationship with former President Donald Trump, and it's different with President Biden, who increasingly put pressure on Netanyahu to call for a cease-fire during this recent conflict. And, you know, there are a lot of Israelis who think Netanyahu should have kept up the airstrikes on Gaza. Netanyahu is trying to stay in office after four deadlocked elections, and he's facing corruption charges as well. But this gives him a chance to show that he still has good ties with the U.S. and President Biden.

INSKEEP: Ultimately, what does the president and his administration want?

NORTHAM: Well, I mean, their goals are modest here. You know, they're trying to make sure the cease-fire holds. They're trying to help get reconstruction efforts underway in Gaza. But the peace talks, those are all going to take a backseat during this visit. You know, State Department officials say there's too much to do in such a short period of time and that it's going to be an intense couple days.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jackie Northam, thanks.

NORTHAM: Thanks so much, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.