US secretary of state Antony Blinken says the Palestinians face a “shrinking horizon of hope” as he reiterated Washington’s opposition to expanding Israeli West Bank settlements.
Meeting Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday, Mr Blinken sought to calm tensions after the recent surge in violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Repeating his call the previous day when he met Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, he urged both sides to de-escalate, saying the United States opposed any action by either side that made a two-state solution more difficult to achieve, including settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions and altering the status of holy sites in Jerusalem.
He expressed condolences to Mr Abbas over the “innocent Palestinian civilians” killed during the last year in the West Bank, the deadliest in years.
[ Middle East Blinken calls on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to ‘restore calm’ in wake of latest violence ]
[ US secretary of state Antony Blinken begins trip to Middle East ]
Mr Abbas blamed Israel for the upsurge in violence, saying Israeli policies undermined a two-state solution.
“We have taken a number of decisions, which we have begun to implement in order to protect the interests of our people after having exhausted all other options,” Mr Abbas said, in a reference to the Palestinian Authority move ending security co-ordination with Israel in the West Bank.
He also criticised what he said was a lack of effort in the international community to hold the Israeli government accountable, which he claimed had allowed continued settlement expansion, land expropriation, settler violence, military raids into Palestinian areas, home demolitions and evictions.
Before leaving Jerusalem, Mr Blinken met a group of young Israeli civil society leaders in what US embassy sources described as a gesture designed to convey a message of solidarity with those fighting in Israel for equality, minority rights and Jewish-Arab shared society.
National missions minister Orit Struck, from the far-right Religious Zionist Party, attacked Mr Blinken for his comments on Monday in a meeting with prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in which he cautioned against implementing the government’s planned judicial reform without a broad consensus.
[ Israel to expand West Bank settlements and make it easier for citizens to obtain gun licences ]
[ Palestinian Authority ends security co-operation with Israel after nine killed in raid ]
“Dear Mr Blinken, it’s my understanding that you decided to give our prime minister a lesson in democracy. But democracy is first and foremost the state’s duty to chart its course in keeping with the citizens’ wishes, without foreign involvement,” she said. “We’re not the 51st or 52nd state of the US.”
Mr Blinken has asked senior members of his team to stay on in the region and continue discussions on how steps to defuse tensions might be advanced.
But Mr Blinken leaves the region in the knowledge there is no realistic prospect in the foreseeable future of ending the diplomatic deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.
The last peace talks took place in 2014 when Barack Obama was US president and a poll last week by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research shows that support for a two-state solution is at an all-time low. Only one-third of Palestinians and one-third of Jewish Israelis support the creation of two states.
Meanwhile, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has passed the first reading of a Bill that would facilitate deporting people convicted of carrying out nationalist attacks. The Bill allows Israel to strip citizenship from any person who was convicted of an act of terrorism and received money from the Palestinian Authority and expel them to Palestinian areas in the West Bank or to Gaza.