Secretary Antony J. Blinken traveled to Istanbul, Türkiye; Crete, Greece; Amman, Jordan; Doha, Qatar; Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates; Al ‘Ula, Saudi Arabia; Tel Aviv, Israel; the West Bank; and Cairo, Egypt from January 4-11, 2024.
This was his 4th trip to the Middle East and the contiguous regions on his itinerary, meeting leaders of many states and talking to them about putting an end to fighting and bloodshed in Gaza.
In Saudi Arabia, Blinken said that “four key Arab nations had agreed to begin planning for the reconstruction and governance of Gaza once Israel’s war against Hamas ends.”
Curiously, Blinken did not visit Tehran despite knowing that Iran has the strongest influence on two terrorist organizations, namely Hamas and Hezbollah, both of them being the main anti-Israel outfits.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have remained strained since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979. When Hamas engineered the killing of nearly 1400 citizens of Israel in a blitzkrieg on the morning of 7th October, the Iranian state celebrated the genocide with dance and music.
What was Blinken’s mission for which he has been traveling across the Middle East? It was to make four prominent Islamic countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE, and Turkey, consider participating in and contributing to “day after” scenarios for the Palestinian territory, which has been devastated by three weeks of deadly Israeli bombardment.
The question is, why does Washington show urgency in taking steps to expeditiously see the fighting coming to an end in Gaza? The pressure from most of the Middle Eastern countries with whom the US has normal relations wants the bloodshed to be stopped immediately when nearly 28,000 people have already perished in the bombardment over Gaza.
Biden administration earnestly wants a stop in the fighting because Presidential elections are around the corner in the US, and the large American Muslim voting segment is not very happy with Biden lending outright support to Israel.
It will be recalled that at one stage, when the IDF initiated retaliation in Gaza, asking the Gazans to move to the south if they wanted to save their lives, the Biden administration conveyed to Tel Aviv it should work towards a ceasefire.
Premier Netanyahu was not in the mood to say an immediate yes to Biden’s message. It was also obvious that the US was not in favor of any strict punitive action against Iran because, essentially, President Biden does not want an escalation of the Middle East war to other parts of the region.
No doubt, Iran is the crucial link in this entire episode, and pro-active elements want the US to deal with Iran simultaneously and make Tehran remain within its limits. However, perhaps Biden thinks that a peace and reconciliation process in the Middle East would make Iran irrelevant.
No media outlet can come out with the fullest details of the talks that Secretary Blinken had with each stakeholder in the Middle East with whom he met during his fourth visit.
However, we can extract the sum and substance of the American perspective of the Middle East scenario from an elaborate speech he made by Secretary Blinken before the media persons while in Israel.
It is a mixed message carrying analysis, ground realities, and the approaches that are desirable to ensure that fighting does not spread to more areas.
Blinken said that given the lowering intensity phase in northern Gaza, he and Premier Netanyahu have agreed on a plan for the UN to carry out an assessment mission. It will suggest a modality of the return of Palestinians safely to their homes in the north.
The US unequivocally rejects any proposals advocating for the resettlement of the Palestinians outside Gaza. He said the Israeli prime minister had reaffirmed that this was not the policy of Israel.
Israel’s security is threatened by Hezbollah in the north. He stated that the US stands with Israel in ensuring its northern border remains secure. This is an important commitment because Hezbollah’s proxy is strongly equipped, trained, and financially supported by Iran.
Secretary Blinken believes that it is necessary to build a more durable peace and security for Israel within the region. All the stakeholders whom he met had agreed that they were ready to support a lasting peace that ends the long-running cycle of violence and ensures Israel’s security. He asserted that this could happen only by securing a pathway for the Palestinian State.
Blinken was forthright in saying that Israel must stop; taking steps that undercut Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves effectively. He said that the Palestinian Authority also has a responsibility to reform itself to improve its governance issues, which he said he planned to raise with President Abbas, among others.
Blinken made some threadbare statements and in right earnest. For example, he said, “If Israel wants its Arab neighbors to make the tough decisions necessary to help ensure its lasting security, Israel leaders will have to make hard decisions themselves.”
The Palestinian issue is one of the most complicated issues that contemporary society has inherited. Unfortunately, violence has not been curbed as a curse and a big hindrance in the path to normalization of relations.
The fundamental obstacle in overcoming the existing hopeless situation in Gaza was that the leaders of Islamic states or groups as stakeholders wanted an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to save humanity from getting decimated.
But Israel is not prepared to go for a ceasefire unless there are some firm commitments from the Palestinians of not repeating the holocaust of 7th October.
From the press address of Secretary Blinken, one infers that the concept of two sovereign states formula has been discussed with the stakeholders including Netanyahu.
Perhaps the US feels that this formula should have the potential to secure peace in the region together with ensuring the security of Israel. It will be recalled that the formula of two independent sovereign states was strongly talked about by President Putin as well as by Xi Jinping when hostilities broke out between Israel and Hamas.
Blinken was right in telling Israel that a day would come when the US would like to be away from the dispute in the Middle East. In that situation, Israel will have to fend for itself. The same was true for Palestinians, who needed to reform their thinking regarding the ground situation.
- KN Pandita (Padma Shri) is the former director of the Center of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University. Views Personal of Author.
- Follow EurAsian Times on Google News