Blinken meets with Abbas amid heightened Palestinian tensions with Israel

(RAMALLAH, West Bank) — Wrapping up a visit to the Middle East amid cascading violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday announced that senior U.S. officials would remain in the region to continue discussions on “constructive ideas for practical steps that each side can take to lower the temperature” despite indications from leaders that a peaceful solution remains well beyond reach.

“We have no illusions that heightened tensions can be diffused overnight. But we’re prepared to support efforts here and with partners in the region if the parties have the will to do so,” Blinken said during a news conference in Jerusalem.

The secretary’s engagements in Israel have revealed little reason for optimism. During joint remarks with President Mahmoud Abbas, the long-running leader of the Palestinian Authority said he was ready to work the U.S. to advance the rights of Palestinians but placed blame for recent violent attacks solely on Israel and accused other powers of turning a blind eye.

“We affirm that the Israeli government is responsible for what’s happening these days, because of its practices that undermine the two-state solution and violate the signed agreements, and because of the lack of international efforts to dismantle the occupation and the settlement regimes, and the failure to recognize the Palestinian state and its full membership in the United Nation,” he declared.

Abbas also claimed that the Palestinian Authority had “exhausted all means with Israel to stop its violations” and had been forced to undertake decisions to protect its people, perhaps in reference to its suspension of security cooperation with Israel following a deadly raid in the Jenin refugee camp carried out by Israeli Defense Forces last week.

The Israeli government has described the raid as an urgent counterterrorism operation and said that six of the nine killed were militants, but Palestinians have denounced the event as a massacre.

Authorities fear the raid may have motivated a number of recent attacks on Israelis, including a shooting at an East Jerusalem synagogue of Friday that claimed seven lives.

Blinken expressed said he expressed “condolences and sorrow for the innocent Palestinian civilians who have lost their lives in escalating violence over the last year” and announced that the U.S. would contribute $50 million to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which supports the needs of Palestinian refugees.

The secretary also expressed some of the Biden administration’s misgivings about the Palestinian Authority, saying the two discussed the importance of regime “continuing to improve its governance and accountability” and emphasized that the U.S. was looking “to both sides to actively condemn any acts of violence, regardless of the victim or the perpetrator.”

But despite Blinken’s repeated urging against escalation during his visit, neither Abbas nor the numerous Israeli officials he met with echoed his direct pleas for peace.

Blinken also reaffirmed the U.S.’ long held commitment to implementing a two-state solution multiple times, but was realistic about currently dim prospects, saying the immediate goal was “restoring calm.”

“Over the longer term, we have to do more than just lower tensions,” he said.

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