Blinken has been dispatched to the Middle East four times in the more than three months since the October 7 Hamas attack and has made five visits to Israel during those trips. On each of his prior visits, Blinken has met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet. He does so again on Tuesday.
The stakes of this latest visit couldn’t be higher as concerns about the war spilling out into the wider region increase. On its conduct of the war in Gaza, the Biden administration has sought to maintain pressure on the Netanyahu government to curb its offensive and reduce harm to civilians. However, US officials have also offered unceasing support for Israel’s decision to carry out a military campaign, even amid growing international isolation.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the Israeli offensive, millions have been displaced, and the entire population in the war-torn strip faces the risk of famine, the UN has warned. US officials have publicly acknowledged that gaps remain between Israel’s “intentions” and “results” when it comes to the staggering toll on civilians.
Blinken said Monday he would talk to Israeli officials “about the future direction of their military campaign in Gaza.” Israeli officials have said they are transitioning to a more targeted, lower-intensity phase of the war. A senior US official said Blinken is expected to push on an “imminent” transition to such a phase, which officials have yet to see.
“I will press on the absolute imperative to do more to protect civilians and to do more to make sure that humanitarian assistance is getting into the hands of those who need it,” Blinken said in Saudi Arabia Monday.
Blinken landed in Israel Monday evening following a flurry of stops in the region to press the need to stem wider escalation and discuss plans for the “day after” for Gaza.
Blinken arrived just hours after news emerged that a senior Hezbollah commander had been killed in an Israeli strike in Lebanon – the second such strike by Israeli forces since the start of the year.
“With regard to Lebanon, it’s clearly not in the interest of anyone – Israel, Lebanon, Hezbollah for that matter – to see this escalate and to see an actual conflict,” the top US diplomat said Monday.
He said he would convey to Israeli officials “everything I’ve heard thus far on this trip.”
There are numerous points of divergence between Israeli government officials and the Biden administration on plans for a post-war Gaza. US officials have repeatedly suggested that a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority (PA) could govern Gaza. In November, Blinken laid out the US terms, which included no forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, “no diminution of the territory in Gaza and a commitment to Palestinian land governance for Gaza and the West Bank and in a unified way.”
Netanyahu has rejected the idea of the PA ruling Gaza. Far-right members of his government have advocated for the resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza – prompting a rebuke from Blinken earlier this week.
“Palestinian civilians must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow. They cannot and they must not be pressed to leave Gaza. We reject the statements by some Israeli ministers and lawmakers calling for a resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza,” he said in Doha Sunday.
“These statements are irresponsible, they’re inflammatory, and they only make it harder to secure a future of a Palestinian-led Gaza with Hamas no longer in control and with terrorist groups no longer able to threaten Israel’s security,” Blinken said.
In those remarks Sunday, Blinken floated the idea of the UN assessing “what needs to be done to allow displaced Palestinians to return home” in northern Gaza.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant proposed this week that Palestinians not be allowed to return home until all the remaining hostages are freed. That is expected to be discussed in the meetings, the senior US official said.
The top US diplomat said Monday the conversations would “focus on our relentless efforts to bring back the hostages – Americans, Israelis, and others.”