Secretary of State Antony Blinken left for the Middle East on Monday, where he will visit Israel and other regional countries to discuss the Gaza ceasefire reached between Israel and Hamas.
A State Department official said the trip will be focused on ensuring the ceasefire is held. “The most important thing is that the ceasefire does hold. It’s extremely important that it does. We don’t want to see a return to the bloodshed that was heartbreaking during the 11-day conflict,” the official said.
Israel’s Gaza bombing campaign killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and did significant damage to the besieged enclave’s civilian infrastructure. In Israel, 12 people were killed by rockets from Gaza, including two children.
On the three-day trip, Blinken will travel to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, and Amman. He is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and Jordan’s King Abdullah.
In an interview on Sunday, Blinken made it clear Gaza is the priority for now, and potential Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are on the back burner. “In the first instance, we’ve got to deal with the humanitarian situation, which is grave in Gaza,” he said.
The Biden administration is standing firmly behind its ally in the wake of the Gaza onslaught. When asked about opposition from progressives in Congress to a recently approved $735 million arms sale to Israel, Blinken defended his administration’s military support for the Israelis. “We are committed to giving Israel the means to defend itself, especially when it comes to these indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians,” he said.
Blinken also said President Biden is committed to a two-state solution. But Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have made a two-state solution no longer a realistic option, and until settlements are addressed, the crisis will continue.