The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Blinken urges Israel-Palestinia­n calm following increased violence

- By Matthew Lee

JERUSALEM — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel and the Palestinia­ns on Monday to ease tensions following a spike in violence that has put the region on edge. The bloodshed has alarmed the Biden administra­tion as it attempts to find common ground with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new right-wing government.

Yet aside from appeals for de-escalation and restraint, Blinken did not publicly offer any particular ideas for calming the situation and it was not immediatel­y clear from his meeting with Netanyahu that the administra­tion would be proposing any. Blinken will meet Tuesday with Palestinia­n leader Mahmoud Abbas.

“We're urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate,” Blinken said after meeting Netanyahu. “We want to make sure that there's an environmen­t in which we can, I hope at some point, create conditions where we can start to restore a sense of security for Israelis and Palestinia­ns alike, which of course is sorely lacking.”

Blinken arrived during one of the deadliest periods of fighting in years in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. An Israeli military raid Thursday killed 10 Palestinia­ns in the flashpoint West Bank town of Jenin, while a Palestinia­n gunmen killed seven people outside a synagogue in an east Jerusalem settlement on Friday.

The next morning, a 13-year-old Palestinia­n boy shot and wounded two Israelis elsewhere in east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu made no reference to the recent flareup in violence in brief comments after the meeting, instead speaking of the dangers to Israel posed by Iran and his hope for expanding the so-called “Abraham Accords” — normalizat­ion agreements with several Arab countries.

“Expanding the circle of peace; working to close, finally, the file of the ArabIsrael­i conflict, I think would also help us achieve a workable solution with our Palestinia­n neighbors,” Netanyahu said in his only mention of the Palestinia­ns.

Blinken was more forthright, saying the U.S. supports the expansion of the Abraham Accords but that they cannot be a substitute for a two-state solution that resolves the long-running Israeli-Palestinia­n conflict.

“These efforts are not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinia­ns, but as we advance Israel's integratio­n we can do so in ways that improves the daily lives of Palestinia­ns in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said, adding that the best way to do that would be through a twostate resolution creating an independen­t Palestinia­n state alongside Israel.

Netanyahu's government is dominated by farright politician­s who oppose Palestinia­n independen­ce. Following the weekend shootings, his government approved a series of punitive moves against the Palestinia­ns, including plans to “strengthen” West Bank settlement­s. The U.S., like most of the internatio­nal community, considers Israeli settlement­s on lands claimed by the Palestinia­ns for their state as obstacles to peace.

“Anything that moves us away from that vision is, in our judgment, detrimenta­l to Israel's long-term security and its long-term identity as a Jewish and democratic state,” Blinken said.

Israel's options may be limited. Both shooters are believed to have acted individual­ly and were not part of organized militant groups, and punitive steps against the broader population could risk triggering even more violence.

Just before meeting Netanyahu, Blinken said he arrived in Israel from Egypt at “a pivotal moment” and condemned Palestinia­n attacks that have targeted Israeli citizens. But he also called for restraint in response, saying that all civilian casualties are deplorable.

“To take an innocent life in an act of terrorism is always a heinous crime but to target people outside their place of worship is especially shocking,” he said, referring to the Friday night shooting, which occurred on the Jewish sabbath.

“We condemn all those who celebrate these and any other acts of terrorism that take civilian lives no matter who the victim is or what they believe,” he said. “Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer. And acts of retaliator­y violence against civilians are never justified.”

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