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Antony Blinken meets with Israeli PM Netanyahu

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TEL AVIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday in Tel Aviv, according to a pool of reporters travelling with the secretary, CNN reported.
The meeting, held at 11:50 am local time was closed to the press.
The US State Secretary is in Israel for meetings with key government officials to press for a “humanitarian pause” as international and domestic US pressure to end the conflict in Gaza continues to mount, reported CNN.
As part of his trip, Blinken is likely to travel to the West Bank.
Blinken said Tuesday he would discuss Hamas’ response to a proposal meant to secure the freedom of the remaining hostages and a sustained cessation of the fighting in Gaza with Israeli officials.
Blinken’s meeting with Netanyahu lasted slightly over an hour.
He also met with Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and is scheduled to meet other key officials.
The discussions in Tel Aviv gained added significance due to Hamas presenting a response to a proposal aimed at securing the release of remaining hostages held by the group and achieving a sustained cessation of fighting in Gaza.
The complete Hamas response outlines three phases, each lasting 45 days, including withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a substantial humanitarian effort, and unrestricted movement for people across Gaza, as per information obtained by CNN.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and, indeed, essential. And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it,” Blinken said at a news conference in Doha Tuesday, CNN reported.
The Israeli offensive, initiated in response to the Hamas attack four months ago, has inflicted a severe humanitarian toll on Gaza, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties and pushing the population to the brink of famine. The offensive triggered a series of regional attacks by Iranian-backed proxy groups, including Houthis targeting vessels in the Red Sea and various strikes by militias against US troops in Iraq and Syria.
Unfortunately, one such strike claimed the lives of three US service members. The Biden administration is facing domestic criticism over its handling of the Gaza situation, which poses potential political damage to President Joe Biden during an election year.
In addressing the crisis, the top US diplomat is anticipated to concentrate on urging Israel to implement a “humanitarian pause,” as termed by the Biden administration. Such a cessation of hostilities is considered crucial for achieving both short- and long-term objectives set by the United States.
“We saw the results of the last pause – the initial pause: 105 hostages out, a significant increase in humanitarian assistance getting in, the repair of critical infrastructure in Gaza, and more broadly, reduced regional tensions at the same time,” Blinken said Tuesday.
A senior State Department official also stated that “whenever we go to Israel we have a long list in our ongoing conversation with Israel on humanitarian access and civilian casualties.”
The discussions are anticipated to be challenging. On Monday, Netanyahu once again dismissed the notion of a ceasefire, asserting that the offensive would persist until the leadership of Hamas was eliminated. Throughout the conflict, it has required significant and continuous pressure from the United States to prompt Israeli officials to adjust their positions, such as permitting aid to enter Gaza.
“We are in conversation with the Israelis every day on a number of different humanitarian pieces and make progress on them, but to get real breakthroughs on some of the big things, one of two things has to happen: the Secretary has to show up or the President has to get on the phone with the prime minister. So whenever we come to Israel, we come with a list of things that we’re trying to push,” a senior State Department official said earlier this week.
Regarding issues such as the civilian death toll, authorities acknowledge that there is ongoing effort required, recognizing that the number of casualties in the offensive remains excessively high. Humanitarian organizations express apprehension that the toll on civilians may escalate further as Israel shifts its operations to Rafah, prompting thousands to flee.
Blinken arrived in Israel on Tuesday night after visiting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar, where the discussions “focused on ensuring … that we can use any pause to continue to build out plans for the day after in Gaza – the security, humanitarian, reconstruction, governance.”
“We’re also determined to use any pause to continue to pave a diplomatic path forward to a just and lasting peace and security for the region,” the top US diplomat said Tuesday.
The Israeli PM has publicly dismissed many of these key tenets that the US and its regional allies have put forward for the “day after” in Gaza. Netanyahu has time and again dismissed the idea of a Palestinian state or a role for the Palestinian Authority in post-war governance. There are also signs that he intends to establish a buffer zone within Gaza, in opposition to US demands that Gaza’s territory not be reduced.
On both his current and last trip to the Middle-East, Blinken has stressed that the Israeli government must make “difficult” decisions and move toward a two-state solution if it wants to achieve normalisation with Saudi Arabia and if it wants the support of its Arab neighbors for security and reconstruction in Gaza.
The top US diplomat, who met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Monday, said that Saudi Arabia still has a “strong interest” in normalizing relations with Israel, but the Crown Prince made clear that the war in Gaza must end and there must be “a clear, credible, timebound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
At his press conference in Doha Tuesday, Blinken again noted that “in terms of dealing with some of the most profound security challenges that Israel has faced for years, it will be in a much stronger position as part of an integrated region to deal with them.”
“But again, these are decision that will have to be made. None of them are easy. And we’ll continue the effort to prepare all the diplomatic steps necessary to be able to move down that path if that’s the path that everyone chooses,” Blinken said, CNN reported.

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