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Blinken in Cairo ahead of Israel-Palestine trip as violence flares in the region

US Secretary of State is due to meet Sisi, Netanyahu and Abbas to discuss issues of mutual concern. Will he meet far-right Israeli politicians?
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the American University in Cairo, Egypt, on 29 January 2023 (AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Cairo on Sunday in the first leg of his three-day Middle East trip, as violence escalates between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories. 

Blinken is due to meet President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and senior Egyptian officials in Cairo, where they will discuss "shared support for elections in Libya and the ongoing Sudanese-led political process", according to a press statement.

He will then visit Jerusalem on Monday, where he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials from his right-wing government, with Iran and the two-state solution high on the agenda.

He will also visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and senior Palestinian officials.

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It remains to be seen whether Blinken will meet with extremist right-wing members of the Israeli government, who are known for advocating illegal settlement expansion and racist policies against Palestinians. 

Last month, Blinken said he would judge Netanyahu's new far-right and extreme Zionist government based on its policies and not the people comprising it, as Netanyahu allied himself with far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich - the latter holding the finance ministry portfolio and the former appointed minister of national security. 

Earlier this month, Ben-Gvir ordered the state's police commissioner to enforce a directive to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces a day after one was waved at a previous anti-government protest in Tel Aviv.

In public remarks last month before the announcement of the new Israeli government, Blinked said his administration would "unequivocally oppose any acts that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution, including, but not limited to, settlement expansion; moves towards annexation of the West Bank; disruption to the historic status quo of holy sites; demolitions and evictions; and incitement to violence".

Blinken also criticised the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and efforts to hold Israel accountable at the United Nations.

Blinken's visit comes in the aftermath of two of the deadliest incidents in Israel and occupied Palestine. A raid by Israeli troops on the refugee camp in Jenin on Thursday killed nine Palestinians in one day, and a tenth succumbed to his wounds on Sunday. An attack by an armed Palestinian on Friday in East Jerusalem killed seven Israelis, and another shooting on Saturday wounded two Israelis in East Jerusalem. 

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"With both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the Secretary will underscore the urgent need for the parties to take steps to de-escalate tensions in order to put an end to the cycle of violence that has claimed too many innocent lives," a State Department spokesman said.

"He also will discuss the importance of upholding the historic status quo the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in words and in actions."

The visit also comes amid rising opposition to Netanyahu's government, with thousands protesting on Saturday against his recently-proposed reform that would allow parliament to override decisions made by the Supreme Court.

Analysts have warned that such a programme could potentially allow lawmakers to uphold any annulment of the corruption charges Netanyahu is being tried on. 

Netanyahu is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office.

He denies the charges against him of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He took office late last month following his 1 November election win, heading a coalition that includes a politician who last year admitted tax evasion and a clutch of far-right personalities, including one who once kept a portrait in his home of a man who massacred scores of Palestinian worshippers.

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