U.S. President Joe Biden has sent his top diplomat to the Middle East just days after an Egyptian intermediary the fire was stopped to end the deadly 11-day bombing of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army and the launching of rockets at Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on Tuesday for the first leg of his four-day trip, during which he will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will then travel to Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, where he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in efforts to “solidify” the ceasefire.
Blinken will travel this week to neighboring Egypt and Jordan “to discuss essential follow-up efforts to consolidate the ceasefire and reduce the risks of new conflicts over the coming months.”
The visit comes amid rising internal pressure on the Biden administration to blame Israel for rights abuses against Palestinians, as well as growing criticism of US support and sale of weapons to the Israeli government.
But experts say Blinken’s tour of the Middle East’s main goal is to manage the conflict rather than resolve it, and it shows that the Biden administration is largely adhering to a foreign policy gamebook. of the United States, which for decades critics have argued has failed.
“Blinken and the Biden administration have no answer to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They don’t want to be absorbed in what they see as an impossible mission, ”said Joshua Landis, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies.
Simply put, the goal of Blinken’s visit is to “try to make this go away,” Landis told Al Jazeera, and it seems the administration’s strategy is to “throw money at the problem.”
“He hopes the next war in Gaza will break out on someone else’s watch. And then … he can throw money at it, promise to rebuild it, convince Israel not to do anything really stupid, maybe slow down settlements, or at least do “It’s less visible,” Landis said.
“That’s all he can do: keep doing it enough, bring money to the Palestinians and buy them for four more years.”
Biden had previously noted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not a priority amid more urgent challenges in the first months of his administration, such as the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and talks on the nuclear deal on Iran.
But the Israeli assault on Gaza forced the US president to address it. Biden and his senior officials have repeatedly stressed in the past two weeks that Washington stands firmly behind Israel’s “right to defend itself,” even blocking attempts by the UN Security Council to call for a ceasefire as violence in Gaza raged.
Since the ceasefire was reached on Thursday, the administration has made its approach public, saying backstage diplomacy helped consolidate the deal. But critics have questioned it, Biden said it needs to adopt a firmer line with Israel to address the root causes of the conflict, such as the ongoing Israeli occupation and its 14-year blockade of Gaza.
A State Department official, speaking to reporters Monday, said the main objectives of Blinken’s visit are to ensure a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian faction that rules the besieged 2 million enclave. of people and to advance “in the quality of the life of the people”.
This includes working with the UN and the Palestinian Authority to introduce aid for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, avoiding Hamas, which the US considers a “terrorist organization” and does not speak directly.
“It simply came to our notice then [Hamas] understand that if aid comes, it is the way it will … We believe that, in doing so, it will lead us down the path, hopefully eventually, to the reintegration to some extent of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. ” say the official.
William Lawrence, a former U.S. graduate and professor of international affairs at the American University, said he did not expect to talk about the “peace process” during Blinken’s trip because “the discussion … and then the disagreement over a process of peace could threaten the ceasefire. “
Lawrence told Al Jazeera that he hopes the Biden administration will prioritize “finding ways to improve the rights and well-being of Palestinians over the peace process,” adding that a shift in the approach of the Palestinians has already been noted. United States.
“The Biden administration has slightly changed the U.S. approach to this issue by talking about the equivalence between Palestinian rights and welfare and Israeli rights and welfare, although the U.S. preference is to support the State of Israel, ”he explained.
“I think this visit will be one more articulation of this new argument that says Palestinian lives are important.”
Imad Harb, director of research and analysis at the Arab Center Washington DC, said Blinken’s visit is a positive step, as is the U.S. efforts to help rebuild Gaza, where hundreds of buildings have been built. damaged and destroyed in the recent Israeli attacks.
“If Blinken goes there, that means the administration is really interested in seeing how this thing unfolds, but on what basis? What are you ready to offer? What can it offer? “He said.
Harb told Al Jazeera that basic issues, such as Palestinian self-determination and national rights, should be addressed, but questioned whether Blinken has the power to pressure Benjamin Netanyahu to do what the Israeli prime minister does not want to do.
A key question is also whether the Biden administration has a plan for what comes after the rebuilding phase. “We provide the material, the assistance, to try to fix things, but what comes next?” Said Harb.
“How can the administration keep talking? [a] two-state solution when we know that Israel has basically closed [that option] with its continued occupation, its continued construction of illegal settlements … If we continue to talk about the two-state solution, we simply do nothing, we just repeat words and words and words ”.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a U.S.-based think tank, said Blinken’s visit is an attempt “to pretend there is a two-state solution and that there is a peace process that they will try to revive ”.
“It’s really like attending a wedding after the wedding is over,” he told Al Jazeera.
Palestinians have for years said that a two-state solution, in which an independent Palestinian state is created alongside Israel, is not possible due to Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian lands and the presence of more than 600,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.
Whitson added, however, that recent statements by Biden and other U.S. officials have mentioned the need for equal rights for Palestinians, which he said points to a subtle recognition of the fact that a two-state solution it is no longer viable.
“What needs to happen is for the Biden administration to act as a democratic administration, as a transparent administration and as a reflective administration that meets the reality that I think it is struggling with: that our approach to Israel has failed. and harmful ”.