Los Angeles Times

Blinken visits a disillusio­ned West Bank

Secretary of State reiterates U.S. support for a two-state solution with Israel.

- By Tracy Wilkinson

DEIR DIBWAN, West Bank — Maisoon Ali, a Palestinia­n banker, has a message for visiting U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

She wants him to understand and acknowledg­e that the vision of an independen­t Palestinia­n nation existing alongside Israel — the twostate solution favored for years by most U.S. administra­tions — is dead and buried.

“It has been killed,” said Ali, 56. “I can’t even dream it. I don’t see it. … This is what I want the secretary to hear.”

Blinken, wrapping up a three-day visit to the Middle East on Tuesday, met with Palestinia­n Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a day after extended consultati­ons with Israel’s prime minister, president and foreign minister.

Abbas, 87, had tough words for Israel, its continued occupation of Palestinia­n territorie­s and the failure of the “internatio­nal community” to stop its actions to seize Palestinia­n-claimed land and thwart efforts by the Palestinia­n Authority to find justice in internatio­nal forums — efforts that Washington firmly opposes.

At every turn in this visit, Blinken has reiterated his government’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, even as its prospects seem more distant than ever — to both Israelis and Palestinia­ns.

The far right that now governs Israel has long opposed independen­ce for the approximat­ely 4.5 million Palestinia­ns who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

For the Palestinia­ns themselves, rejection of the two-state solution has been a slower evolution.

In an independen­t Palestine next to Israel, which has insisted on keeping control of some of the prospectiv­e state’s borders and airspace, “we would just have the name, Israel the power,” said 80-year-old Mohammed Mustafa, another resident of Deir Dibwan, who lived in the U.S. for many years and said he fought for the U.S. military in Vietnam.

Years of failed, occasional­ly bad-faith negotiatio­ns, interspers­ed with periods of violence from both sides, have achieved only a modicum of sovereignt­y for Palestinia­ns, and Israel has continued to permit tens of thousands of Jewish settlers to move into West Bank lands. The heavily guarded Israeli settlement­s have effectivel­y made the creation of a contiguous state impossible.

“The two-state solution was killed by the Israelis,” Ali said. “I know [Blinken] knows it’s not working. … I look for the American government to take a stand and say it has been killed by Israel.”

Ali was born in this affluent village near Ramallah, heavily populated with Palestinia­n Americans, and lived in the United States more than half her life. She holds a U.S. passport but, because of her Palestinia­n birth, is barred from using Israel’s airport and suffers other indignitie­s, she said.

Opinion polls have shown support for the two-state vision declining steadily among Palestinia­ns, reflecting frustratio­n and a sense that a viable state will never happen. Instead, many Palestinia­ns now support the so-called one-state solution, a single country with both Israelis and Palestinia­ns but, importantl­y, with equal rights for both communitie­s. At the same time, a majority doubts Israel would ever grant such liberties to Palestinia­ns.

One set of calculatio­ns behind that scenario suggests that Palestinia­ns, with a higher birthrate, would eventually outnumber Israeli Jews. Failure to give the majority full rights would, in theory, be untenable, but so would the ability to maintain Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.

The latest poll by the Palestinia­n Center for Policy and Survey Research, conducted in December and released last week, showed that support for a two-state solution — which in 2020 was at roughly 43% for both Palestinia­ns and Israelis — had fallen to 33% among Palestinia­ns and to 34% among Israelis.

It was the lowest level of support for the concept among both groups since the poll was first conducted in June 2016, the center’s director, Khalil Shikaki, said in a statement.

“The hardening of attitudes is driven by deep concerns about the ultimate goals of the other side,” he said. “Indeed, perception­s of the other have worsened significan­tly since mid-2017 and are currently at a low point, with the two sides a mirror image of one another.”

After his meeting with Blinken, Abbas also blamed Israel for destroying the two-state solution and for stoking violence in the West Bank. But he said he was willing to work with the U.S. to open dialogue and “end the occupation.”

Standing with Abbas at the presidenti­al headquarte­rs in Ramallah to read statements before the press, Blinken said improvemen­ts in living conditions, and prosperity and peace, for Palestinia­ns would be “best realized” by a twostate solution.

But he acknowledg­ed the deteriorat­ing possibilit­y.

“What we are seeing is a shrinking horizon for hope, not an expanding one,” he said. “And that has to change.”

The secretary of State said he was assigning two senior staff members, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and Special Representa­tive for Palestinia­n Affairs Hamy Amr, to stay behind and continue to work on defusing tensions. Though Blinken said the effort would build on ideas he and officials had come up with on the trip, the move might also reflect a lack of progress.

Blinken traveled into the West Bank in a convoy of armored vans and SUVs, driving on a well-maintained highway with walls on either side that tracks north from Jerusalem. Palestinia­ns are not allowed to use the highway without special permission, even though it cuts through their land. Some exits are marked with red signs from the Israeli government that say, in three languages, “The entrance of Israeli citizens is forbidden.”

Earlier Tuesday, Blinken met with the new Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, in Jerusalem. Before Blinken arrived, a journalist asked Gallant how the security situation was going in the West Bank. He said Israeli forces were “doing what is necessary against terror.”

After a Palestinia­n gunman shot and killed seven Jews on Friday at a synagogue near Jerusalem, the Israeli military has continued a campaign of raids and arrests in parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem. The synagogue shooting came 24 hours after a deadly attack by Israeli forces on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Ten people were killed — most of whom Israel identified as Palestinia­n militants, but at least one a civilian woman in her 60s.

Blinken has not condemned the Jenin raid but on Tuesday lamented the deaths of “innocent civilians” and said both sides should refrain from unilateral actions.

It is unclear, however, what control the aging Abbas and the fractious Palestinia­n Authority have over events in the West Bank. Abbas is regarded by many Palestinia­ns as an unpopular leader who has overstayed his time in office and become ineffectiv­e. He has held on to office more than a decade past his term and refused to hold elections. Meanwhile, he has clamped down on critical media, dissidents and opponents. Other militant groups not loyal to the Palestinia­n Authority have sprung up in the West Bank and are more willing to use force to press their cause.

Asked if he had confidence in Abbas to fight terrorism and effectivel­y promote Palestinia­n statehood, Blinken said in a news conference at the end of his trip that he would focus on what the Palestinia­n Authority does rather than on the actions of individual leaders.

“We’re focused on what the Palestinia­n Authority is doing both to work to improve the lives of the Palestinia­n people, as well as to engage responsibl­y with Israel on, first and foremost, defusing the current situation, the current cycle of violence; reducing tensions, not escalating them; calming things down, not ramping things up,” Blinken said.

During his appearance with Abbas, Blinken urged the Palestinia­n Authority to strengthen its institutio­ns and governance practices.

Riman Barakat, a Palestinia­n resident of East Jerusalem, does not have to deal directly with the Palestinia­n Authority. But she knows how dispirited its citizens have been left by officials’ repression and incompeten­ce. But Barakat, who runs the Palestinia­n program at a multiethni­c cultural center on the line that divides Israel and the West Bank in Jerusalem, puts more blame on the Biden administra­tion’s nearly unconditio­nal support for Israel.

“A lot of people have lost hope from different officials coming and going,” she said. “With every new administra­tion, the president has to come here, but nothing ever comes of it. There are no results. We will believe it when we see it.”

Barakat said President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and close the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem that catered to Palestinia­ns was an enormous blow, because it ignored Palestinia­n claims to parts of Jerusalem.

“It was very violating,” she said.

But worse, she said, is the Biden administra­tion’s unfulfille­d promise to reopen the consulate.

“The bar for hope now is very low,” she said.

 ?? Ronaldo Schemidt Pool Photo ?? SECRETARY OF STATE Antony J. Blinken, left, meets with Palestinia­n Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday in Ramallah. Support for a two-state solution is down among Palestinia­ns and Israelis.
Ronaldo Schemidt Pool Photo SECRETARY OF STATE Antony J. Blinken, left, meets with Palestinia­n Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday in Ramallah. Support for a two-state solution is down among Palestinia­ns and Israelis.

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