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Israeli-Palestinian talks 'not immediate order of business', says Blinken

US secretary of state says Washington will 'support reconstruction and development' efforts in Gaza
Blinken says US President Joe Biden is committed to a two-state solution to the crisis (Reuters/File photo)
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Washington

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Washington is focused on humanitarian relief efforts in the Palestinian territories - with kickstarting peace talks towards a two-state solution an ultimate goal, but "not the immediate order of business".

In an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, Blinken signalled support for reconstruction efforts in Gaza after 11 days of US-backed Israeli bombardment.

"In the first instance, we’ve got to deal with the humanitarian situation, which is grave in Gaza," Blinken said. "We’ve got to start to bring countries together to support reconstruction and development."

He added that the administration will re-engage Palestinian leaders and continue its "deep engagement" with Israel to "advance a genuine peace process".

However, Blinken acknowledged that there is "a lot of work to do to get to that point."

'Equal measures'

The top US diplomat also echoed the US administration's rhetorical support for equality between Israelis and Palestinians.

"It’s incumbent upon all of us to try to make the turn to start to build something more positive. And what that means at heart is that Palestinians and Israelis alike have to know in their day-in and day-out lives equal measures of opportunity, of security, of dignity," he said.

The talking point about supporting "equal measures" of freedom and security for Israelis and Palestinians first appeared in statements by the Joe Biden campaign before the election and has since been repeated by Blinken multiple times.

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In practice, however, Biden has perpetuated the policies of previous administrations of unconditional support for Israel.

Biden and his top aides have refused to condemn Israel's bombing of Gaza, which killed at least 248 Palestininians. 

The US administration has also refused to denounce any of Israel's policies, including efforts to forcibly evict Palestinian families in East Jerusalem or attacks on worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque, which have continued to happen after the ceasefire in Gaza.

Moreover, the US blocked UN Security Council statements calling for an immediate end to the violence in Gaza when the war was ongoing - while reiterating what US officials call "Israel's right to defend itself".

The administration has been taking credit for the ceasefire, claiming through Blinken and others that it engaged in "relentless" and "quiet" diplomacy to end the fighting, but critics have accused Washington of prolonging the war by blocking the UN statement and justifying Israel's actions.

Support for weapon sale to Israel

Biden has also ruled out conditioning US aid to Israel, voicing unquestioning commitment to the $3.8bn annual assistance. 

In fact, earlier on Sunday, Blinken rejected congressional efforts to block a $735m weapons sale to Israel.

 "The president’s been equally clear: we are committed to giving Israel the means to defend itself, especially when it comes to these indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians. Any country would respond to that, and we’re committed to Israel’s defence," Blinken told ABC news.

Progressive lawmakers are trying to block the arms deal over the atrocities in Gaza, and while it is unlikely that they will have the numbers to pass legislation vetoing the sale, they are setting a precedent by questioning America's military support to Israel in Congress.

In the interview with ABC, Blinken also stressed that the administration is not in a rush to restart Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

"President Biden’s been very clear that he remains committed to a two-state solution," he said. 

"Look, ultimately, it is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of course, the only way to give the Palestinians the state to which they’re entitled. That’s where we have to go. But that, I don’t think, is something necessarily for today."