The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on possible future scenarios. Today we turn the spotlight on Blinken’s visit to Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Last Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Cairo for a three-day Middle East tour to Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories. The visit came amidst a sudden spike in violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank. In the wake of an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp that claimed the lives of nine, a Palestinian gunman in retaliation killed seven people in East Jerusalem. These series of events deteriorated a situation that had already become overtly tense in the past weeks, especially in light of the formation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government. These developments have been at the core of the talks Blinken held in Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah. During his stay, the Secretary of State urged an end to the violence, and reiterated the White House’s support for a two-state solution. However, Blinken’s declarations risk remaining just words. Relations between Israel and the US are becoming increasingly complex, and Washington is not perceived as a reliable interlocutor by the Palestinians. These statements are therefore unlikely to change the current situation on the ground. As the Palestinian Authority struggles to keep up with security developments in the West Bank, the Israeli government has shown its readiness to use an iron fist in response to violent attacks. In this context, the possibility of a further escalation is anything but remote.
The experts of the ISPI MED network react to the US Secretary of State’s visit to Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Biden’s complicated relation with the new Netanyahu government
The United States is currently dealing with the most extreme government in Israel’s history. Yet, as counterintuitive as it may look, there’s a broad basis for cooperation upon most issues. For instance, Iran has for now ceased to represent a major friction point. The dim prospects for a nuclear deal revival, Tehran’s brutal repression of popular protests and its military support to Russia have all but hardened attitudes in the US. Besides Iran, there is some clear divergence regarding Israel’s stance on Ukraine and the proposed judicial reform, but there’s been an agreement to disagree on these issues. While the two partners agree on the need to maintain and expand the Abraham Accords, they have different positions upon the Palestinian issue. Nevertheless, Biden will go to great lengths in attempts to manage this disagreement whilst avoiding any confrontation with Netanyahu. However, should the Israeli Prime Minister fail to control his extremist coalition partners, Washington may have to reassess its stance.
Aaron David Miller, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Blinken’s visit won’t improve life for Palestinians
The Biden Administration has made it clear that the United States is neither an honest peace broker, nor the champion of justice and democracy that it claims to be. Biden had an opportunity to live up to his idealistic human rights rhetoric by rolling back the Trump Administration’s unilateral actions. In fact, doing so would have represented the absolute bare minimum for an administration that claims to support the peace process and a two-state solution. Instead, the Biden Administration has decided to double down on its blank check to Israel. Anthony Blinken’s visit is not aimed at improving life for Palestinians or supporting a peace process in any meaningful way. The US continues to obstruct Palestinians from pursuing justice through international legal means. The Biden Administration’s decision to restore aid to the PA and UNRWA, is simply a symbolic gesture that does not address the root causes of Palestinian suffering, and is far too little too late.
Tariq Kenney-Shawa, US Policy Fellow, Al-Shabaka
Blinken’s declarations: A new policy direction?
Not really, they are just empty words. Despite paying lip service to the two states formula in accordance with standard American foreign policy practice, Blinken has signalled that the White House is not willing to go above and beyond to apply pressure and have Israel make the necessary concessions toward it. This comes as no surprise. Since the beginning of his presidency, Joe Biden did not make solving the conflict one of his priorities. He did not revert any of his predecessor Donald Trump’s moves that alienated the Palestinians from the negotiating table, first and foremost his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital outside a framework of negotiations. And he did not try to draw a red line to contain settlement expansion. During his trip, Blinken was much more vocal on the issue of Israel’s domestic judicial reform than on relaunching the peace process.
Davide Lerner, Journalist
Blinken’s Egyptian stop: What kind of partner does Washington seek in Cairo?
The recent visit of the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Egypt confirms the overall positive relationship between Cairo and Washington. However, these diplomatic ties are based upon common interests more than shared values. The US expects Egypt to contribute to regional security and take a consistent position against Russia. Moreover, Washington wants al-Sisi to mediate the political confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. With the end of security cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel, it is key for the US that Egypt maintains an open dialogue channel with Tel Aviv and Ramallah in attempts to scale down foreseeable crises and thus prevent further violent escalations. Blinken also expects al-Sisi to fully commit to supporting a peaceful settlement of the Libyan crisis. In exchange, Egypt seeks international recognition of its regional role, military assistance, and economic support, in terms of know-how transfer and investments. The last point being particularly urgent in a period of economic crisis.
Matteo Colombo, Researcher, Clingendael Institute and Associate Research Fellow, ISPI
This week’s MED This Week has been edited by Mattia Serra