Biden's top Middle East advisor travels to region amid West Bank tensions
US President Joe Biden's top advisor on the Middle East is in the region for meetings with Egypt, Jordan, Oman, and the UAE, a visit that coincides with rising tensions in the region.
Brett McGurk’s trip comes amid a surge in violence in the occupied West Bank. On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinians, including a child and three elderly people, and wounded more than 100 others during a military raid in the city of Nablus.
The deadly raid could pose a setback for US efforts to temper criticism of Israel at the United Nations. The Palestinian Authority threatened to pull out of a security summit with the US, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt following the raid, Axios reported on Thursday.
The Biden administration has been trying to keep the dialogue open between Ramallah and the Israeli government in a bid to defuse tensions. The security meeting is intended to cement an understanding between Israel and the Palestinians that led to the postponement of a UN Security Council vote on a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
On Monday, in a rare move, the US backed a formal statement by the council condemning Israel’s plan to expand settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. The decision was a diplomatic maneuver to freeze a harsher proposal put together by the UAE on behalf of the Palestinians, which Washington called “unhelpful”.
Israeli forces have killed 59 Palestinians this year, at a rate of more than one fatality per day. It follows an increase in violence recorded in 2022, with at least 167 Palestinians killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the highest death toll in the territories in a single year since the Second Intifada.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, William Burns, warned earlier this month that current tensions bear an "unhappy resemblance" to the Palestinian uprisings of the 1980s and 2000s.
In Jordan, where McGurk is travelling, King Abdullah II expressed concern for a “complete breakdown of law and order” in the neighbouring occupied West Bank. He also said late last year that his country was prepared for conflict if its "red lines" over Jerusalem's holy sites were crossed.
McGurk is also travelling to Egypt, which in the past has played a mediating role between Israel and fighters in the besieged Gaza Strip. Israeli fighter jets struck targets in the Gaza Strip on Thursday morning, after rockets were fired from the enclave, following the deadly Nablus raid.
In Oman, the US official will be following up on a high-profile visit to the Gulf country this week by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the second regional trip abroad for the Syrian leader in 12 years.
Countries like the UAE and Jordan have sought to bring Damascus back into the regional fold, despite US pressure to keep Assad isolated.
McGurk’s visit also coincides with a decision by Muscat to allow Israeli airlines to use its airspace, despite the country's parliament voting to expand its Israel boycott law less than two months ago.