Blinken meets with Arab officials, calls for ‘enduring end’ to Gaza crisis

US secretary of state holds talks with Egyptian president and crown prince of Saudi Arabia in latest Middle East tour.

Blinken and Mohammed bin Salman
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister <span><span>Mohammed bin Salman</span></span>, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia March 20, 2024 [Evelyn Hockstein/Pool via Reuters]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and reiterated the call for a truce in the war on Gaza and support for the two-state solution, the US Department of State has said.

The meetings over the past two days are part of Blinken’s sixth trip to the Middle East since the war broke out.

In his talks with the Saudi crown prince in Jeddah, Blinken “underscored the importance of urgently addressing humanitarian needs” in Gaza, the State Department said in a statement.

“Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza and to the establishment of a future Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel,” it added.

Blinken also travelled to Cairo, where he met top Egyptian officials, including el-Sisi.

“Secretary Blinken and President el-Sisi discussed negotiations to secure an immediate ceasefire for at least six weeks and the release of all hostages,” the State Department said.

In a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry later on Thursday, Blinken laid out the US vision for post-war Gaza.

“Gaza cannot be used as a platform for terrorism. There can be no displacement of its population. There can be no re-occupation by Israel,” the top US diplomat told reporters.

The US secretary of state, who also met with Arab diplomats from across the region in Cairo, was asked about the Biden administration’s “paradoxical” position, where Washington is pushing to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that is caused by its own weapons that it transfers to the Israeli army.

“We’re committed to Israel’s right to defend itself, and to making sure that it has what it needs to defend itself and to make sure that October 7 never happens again,” Blinken said. “We’re also committed to doing everything we possibly can to help people who are in harm’s way.”

United Nations experts have warned that famine is imminent in Gaza as a result of Israel’s blockade.

In a major speech earlier this month, Biden warned Israel against using humanitarian assistance to Gaza as a “bargaining chip”.

On Monday, the White House also cautioned Israel against a major ground assault on the crowded city of Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians have taken shelter since being displaced.

Blinken echoed that warning on Thursday, saying that a Rafah invasion would be a “mistake”.

The Israeli military has killed nearly 32,000 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7 after Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel, killing 1,139 people and taking more than 200 captive.

Despite the mounting Palestinian death toll and destruction of large parts of Gaza, the Biden administration has pushed on with its financial and diplomatic support for Israel. The White House is working with Congress to secure more than $14bn in additional aid to the US ally.

Washington has also vetoed three UN Security Council proposals that would have called for a ceasefire.

Instead of calling for an end to the war, the Biden administration has worked to secure a pause in hostilities to allow the release of captives taken from Israel on October 7 and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

The top US diplomat has travelled several times to the region to finalise the truce agreement. On Thursday, he said the gaps to secure an agreement are narrowing, but there are still “real challenges” in the talks.

Blinken is set to conclude his trip in Israel. The visit will be his first since officials from Biden’s Democratic Party have intensified their criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for new elections in Israel to replace Netanyahu – comments that the Israeli prime minister described as “totally inappropriate”.

Still, the Biden administration has signalled that it will continue with its pro-Israel policies.

The State Department said Blinken and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed discussed “greater integration among countries in the region” during their meeting.

The Biden administration has used “integration” to refer to establishing formal diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab states, a process more commonly known as “normalisation”. But a US push for official ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel has been complicated by the Gaza conflict.

Last month, after the White House suggested that Saudi Arabia-Israel normalisation talks are continuing despite the war on Gaza, the kingdom denied the account in a strongly worded statement.

“The kingdom has communicated its firm position to the US administration that there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognised on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip stops and all Israeli occupation forces withdraw from the Gaza Strip,” the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at that time.

Netanyahu has repeatedly voiced opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, stressing that Israel must maintain security control over the Palestinian territory.

Source: Al Jazeera