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Blinken meets with Palestinian leader after surge in violence

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas shook hands following their meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Tuesday.Ronaldo Schemidt/Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited the occupied West Bank on Tuesday to meet with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and called for a defusing of the violence that has gripped the region, while conceding that Palestinians face dwindling prospects in their larger struggle for independence.

Blinken visited Abbas at the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah, part of a whirlwind regional tour coinciding with one of the deadliest months in the West Bank in several years. More than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in January, mostly during Israeli military raids aimed at quelling a growing insurgency and arresting Palestinian gunmen.


The violence has also seeped into Jerusalem. A Palestinian attacker shot dead seven civilians outside a synagogue in an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem on Friday night — the worst attack in the city since 2008 — and there are fears of a further escalation in coming weeks. That has further complicated the Biden administration’s diplomacy with a new right-wing coalition government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Palestinians and Israelis alike are experiencing growing insecurity and fear in their homes and communities in their places of worship,” Blinken said. “We believe it’s important to take steps to deescalate, to stop the violence, to reduce tensions — and to try as well to create the foundation for more positive actions going forward.”

Blinken said the US continues to hope for the prospect of a negotiated peace settlement that can lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. But talks to that end have been stalled for years, and Israel’s new government has shown more interest in the potential annexation of Palestinian land than in the possibility of statehood.

“What we’re seeing now for Palestinians is a shrinking horizon of hope, not an expanding one. And that, too, we believe needs to change,” he said. In a modest effort to assist, he announced $50 million in new American funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to the Palestinians.


His meeting with the 87-year-old Abbas came a day after Blinken met in Jerusalem with Netanyahu and issued similar calls for both Israelis and Palestinians to reduce tensions.

Abbas denounced Israel for depriving Palestinians of their rights, overseeing “annexation” of West Bank land and demolishing Palestinian homes there — steps that he said made it more difficult to achieve a peace agreement.

“We have found that the Israeli government is responsible for what’s happening these days,” he said.

But the Palestinian leader, reading from a prepared statement, also condemned the international community for allowing that all to happen, though he did not single out the United States.

Blinken arrived in Ramallah from Jerusalem after his motorcade drove through the rain past Israeli checkpoints manned by soldiers with assault rifles.

Before seeing Abbas, Blinken stopped at a nearby nonprofit community center where he met with local entrepreneurs with ties to the United States.

With the small group seated in a semicircle around trays of sweets, Blinken said that the Biden administration had “set out to renew and strengthen our ties with the Palestinian people.”

Blinken’s meeting with Abbas had been expected to be tense. Palestinian officials said they hoped that Blinken might announce a new approach to ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and where hundreds of thousands of Israelis have since settled alongside millions of Palestinians.


But beyond money for the UN relief group, Blinken had nothing new in hand.

Distracted by other global challenges, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and amid Israeli opposition to Palestinian sovereignty as well as deep rifts in Palestinian society, the Biden administration has not prioritized the restoration of the peace process.

Blinken's chief goal in Ramallah appeared to be persuading the Palestinian leadership to help reduce tensions in the West Bank, which in 2022 saw the highest Palestinian death toll — more than 170 were killed, often during Israeli operations to arrest gunmen — in more than half a decade.

Abbas made no specific call for his people to refrain from acts of violence, although neither did Netanyahu a day earlier.

Earlier on Monday, Blinken met with Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who has helped to mediate two cease-fires between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza since President Joe Biden took office. Blinken later told reporters that he had discussed the current crisis with the Egyptian leader.

New armed groups of young Palestinians, chafing under occupation and the creation of a two-tier legal system that distinguishes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, emerged last year, increasing the number of Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

But Abbas is in a weak position to ensure order. The Palestinian Authority administers most Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank, but its grip on areas outside Ramallah, where Abbas is accused of autocratic behavior, is loosening, particularly in cities like Jenin and Nablus, where the most active insurgents are based.


Abbas has long avoided fully enforcing the authority’s control in those cities, where public resentment of the body is already high, amid widespread perception that it is corrupt and maintains too close a relationship with Israel. On Saturday, the authority released a statement holding Israel responsible for the escalation, ignoring Israeli calls for the Palestinian leadership to condemn Palestinian violence.

Earlier Tuesday, Blinken held meetings with Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, as well as the leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid. He also visited a group of Israeli civil society leaders, praising them for helping to “make sure that each of us” is treated with dignity — a message that came at a moment when many Israelis are worried about legal protections not only for Palestinians but for LGBT citizens.

Before his meeting with Gallant, Blinken nodded to the long list of hard problems complicating the US-Israel relationship.

“We have a lot on our hands in this moment,” he said, “and so I couldn’t see you at a better time.”