U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday wrapped up a two-day visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank with no visible signs of progress toward halting one of the deadliest outbreaks of Israeli-Palestinian violence in years.
The anemic outcome highlighted what appears to be the limited influence the Biden administration has over Israel’s new government, which is dominated by hard-line nationalists who oppose concessions toward the Palestinians. But it also reflected a years-long process that has turned the U.S. into little more than a conflict manager — drawing Palestinian accusations that Washington is a dishonest broker with a bias toward Israel.
The bloodshed overshadowed what was meant to be a mission to establish working relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new far-right government. Instead, Blinken spent much of his time trying to defuse tensions.
Speaking to reporters before returning to the U.S., Blinken said both sides had voiced their readiness to restore calm and that he had instructed two senior officials to remain in the region.
He also reiterated the long-term U.S. goal of working toward a two-state solution that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel under a final peace settlement.
“Restoring calm is our immediate task. But over the longer term, we have to do more than just lower tensions,” he said.
It was a familiar message expressed by a string of U.S. administrations — but based on the bitter experiences of his predecessors — one that is unlikely to bear fruit. Blinken gave no details on what steps he has in mind to promote his short-term goals or his long-term vision.
In the short run, Blinken must contend with Israel’s most right-wing government ever — a collection of religious and ultra-nationalist politicians who oppose concessions to the Palestinians and rule out Palestinian independence.
On the eve of Blinken’s arrival, Netanyahu’s Cabinet approved a series of punitive steps against the Palestinians in response to a pair of shootings in east Jerusalem last weekend — including an attack that killed seven people outside a synagogue in a Jewish settlement.
These include plans to step up West Bank settlement construction, demolitions of the homes of attackers’ families as well as dozens of Palestinian homes constructed without building permits. Palestinians say such permits are almost impossible to get.
Blinken said the U.S. would oppose “anything” that undermines hopes of a two-state solution, including settlement construction built on occupied lands sought by the Palestinians. Some 700,000 Israeli settlers now live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians.
But he gave no indication on how the U.S. might respond if Israel presses ahead with such moves, and reiterated longstanding lines about the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and “shared values” between the countries.
Yara Hawari, a senior analyst at Al-Shabaka, a Palestinian think tank, said Palestinian expectations for Blinken’s visit were low to begin with, and that Blinken had delivered a worn message coddling Israel.
“It’s a textbook visit,” she said. “The U.S. is not an honest broker in this situation, so I don’t understand how it could bring anything to the table that would actually lead us toward achieving Palestinian fundamental rights.”