Blinken to visit Israel after ceasefire as Biden hails ‘quiet diplomacy’

US to discuss recovery efforts after Gaza conflict as some Democrats call for halt to arms deal

US secretary of state Antony Blinken will visit Israel in the coming days, following the announcement of a ceasefire in the region. According to the White House, Mr Blinken will meet with "Israeli, Palestinian and regional counterpart . . . to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians".

It follows 11 days of violence which saw Israel strike buildings in Gaza and militant group Hamas fire rockets into Israel – the worst outbreak of violence in the region since 2014.

In an address from the White House on Thursday night, US president Joe Biden welcomed the ceasefire. Noting that he had spoken to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu six times since the conflict had erupted, he said he "commended" Israel for the decision to bring the hostilities to a close in less than 11 days.

"The United States fully supports Israel's right to defend itself," he said, reiterating a point he made repeatedly over the past week. He also thanked the Egyptian government for its role in negotiating the ceasefire.

He added: “I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy. My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that end.”

Iron Dome

Mr Biden also reiterated his commitment to supporting Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defence system, amid calls from some Democrats for the White House to pause a $735 million arms sale to Israel. The United States provides close to $4 billion in military aid to Israel each year.

Independent senator Bernie Sanders, who votes with Democrats in the Senate, said he planned to introduce a resolution seeking to block the sale, which was approved by the White House earlier this month.

However, it was unclear if a sufficient number of Democrats would endorse the proposed statement. Mr Sanders, who is Jewish, is one of a growing number of left-of-centre members who have questioned the United States’s seemingly unwavering support of Israel, arguing that the plight of Palestinians must also be recognised.

Speaking at the White House on Friday, where Mr Biden hosted South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, press secretary Jen Psaki defended Mr Biden's role in helping to bring about the ceasefire, despite some international and domestic criticism of the president for not publicly calling for an immediate ceasefire over recent days.

‘Clear objective’

“The president set a clear objective from the beginning, which was to end the war, to play any role we could in ending the war, and bring it to a conclusion as quickly as possible. At the beginning, this seemed highly unlikely given that there were thousands of rockets falling on Tel Aviv and the Israelis were on a war footing and preparing for – by many reports – a ground invasion,” she said.  Noting “historic precedent”, she pointed out that the conflict in 2014 had lasted for 51 days and many more lives were lost.

The president’s view, she said, was that through “a disciplined, intensive and quiet campaign of diplomacy . . . we could bring an end to the conflict more quickly”.

Meanwhile, discussions were continuing at the United Nations in New York on Friday about a possible resolution on the Middle East. France was said to be seeking to find agreement between the 15-member Security Council on a resolution, following repeated moves by the United States to block a joint statement.

During a debate in the General Assembly on Thursday, Ireland's ambassador to the United Nations, Geraldine Byrne-Nason, said that the Irish Government "roundly condemns attacks on innocent civilians. No cause, no objective justifies such loss of innocent life."

Mr Biden has said the United States will work with the UN to provide humanitarian assistance for the people of Gaza and reconstruction efforts.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent