Blinken Travels To Middle East Amid Gaza Ceasefire

United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will visit the Middle East on 24 May, amid Israel-Palestine tensions. A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which now holds for four consecutive days, allows Blinken to meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and other regional leaders in hopes of reaching peace agreements, says Reuters. This week, Blinken will speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and Jordan’s King Abdullah.

U.S. President Joe Biden has continually expressed interest in mending conflict and violence in the Middle East. In a statement from the White House, he stated: “Blinken will meet with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. He will continue our administration’s efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders after years of neglect.” In addition to reestablishing support for the region, Biden notes Blinken’s goal of ensuring “immediate assistance” to the people of Gaza, but not Hamas.

The four-day-long ceasefire between Israel and Palestine follows an intense outbreak of fighting. Egyptian mediators have relayed communication between Israel and the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas. Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, and the past eleven days of fighting have been particularly violent, with 240 people killed. Most of the casualties were Palestinians in Gaza. The recent escalation has “exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, generated by nearly 14 years of blockade and internal political divisions, alongside recent hostilities,” says United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Palestinian territories Lynn Hastings. The U.N. aims to repair physical damage in Gaza and address the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic that the densely populated area continues to suffer from.

Israel and Palestine both claimed victory in this recent conflict. While the latest violence stemmed from surging tensions in Jerusalem, the Israel-Palestine conflict has existed for many decades. When Israel declared itself a state in 1948, a lack of universal consensus and agreement to peaceful coexistence in the region has induced rippling effects ever since. During the 1967 war, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, most of the Syrian Golan Heights, Gaza, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. While they have since technically retracted from Gaza, the U.N. still considers it an occupied area, and Israel continues to inhabit the West Bank. More than 600,000 Jews currently live in these areas, where Israeli settler homes have been constructed over the course of fifty years. Palestinians argue that these homes are illegal under national law, and impede their land and peace in the region, but Israel says otherwise.

The U.S. is one of only a few countries to recognize Israel’s claim over the whole city of Jerusalem. Most others acknowledge Palestine’s claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Fighting in the region has worsened as Palestinians suffer from harmful Israeli policies and settler homes, while Israel claims it is only protecting itself from Hamas violence. The two groups cannot agree on several dilemmas, such as handling Palestinian refugees, and whether or not Jewish settlements in the West Bank should be removed. Other challenges are determining how the groups will share Jerusalem, and if a new Palestinian state should be established.

The future of Israel-Palestine relations remains uncertain. BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, defined both sides claiming victory as “sowing the seeds” for future conflict. There have been numerous peace talks in recent decades, but no initiative has proved successful in mending the violent rift in the Middle East. Bowen frets that “if the status quo does not change favorably, there will be another round of this.” Secretary of State Blinken must work strategically to insert productive peace talks amid the cease-fire that appears ongoing. The heartbreaking human suffering in the region must be confronted promptly.