Blinken’s increasing pressure on Israel over ‘pause’ signals change in US strategy: Analysis


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that he used his recent face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make the US case for a temporary halt to the fighting, which he said was necessary to protect civilian lives and allow humanitarian aid to reach Syria. Moving into Gaza and strengthening efforts to free dozens of hostages who have been held in the Strip for nearly a month – laying out the administration’s updated strategy for managing the fallout from the conflict.

“We believe that all of these efforts will be facilitated through humanitarian pauses, arrangements on the ground that increase security for civilians and allow for more effective and sustainable delivery of humanitarian aid,” Blinken said during a press conference on Friday.

“We see it as a way to also – and most importantly – create a better environment in which hostages can be released,” Blinken added.

Photo: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 3, 2023.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 3, 2023.

GPO/Amos Ben Gershom/EPA via Shutterstock

Netanyahu appeared to reject Blinken’s plan, as he called on Hamas to release its hostages before considering any kind of ceasefire. The Biden administration itself has resisted calls for a general ceasefire, which officials distinguish from temporary pauses.

The minister did not say whether Netanyahu had made any guarantees behind closed doors, but said that discussions with the Israeli leadership and other partners in the Middle East would continue.

“A number of legitimate questions were raised in our discussions today, including how to use any pause to maximize the flow of humanitarian aid, how to link the pause to the release of hostages, and how to ensure that Hamas does not use the pause.” “Pauses or arrangements are for their own benefit,” Blinken said. “These are issues that we need to address urgently, and we believe they can be resolved.”

The Biden administration’s subtle shift in tone on Israel’s approach has already begun to lay the groundwork for this development, with senior officials increasingly urging Israel to protect civilians and allow room for diplomacy as it carries out its campaign.

While outlining the critical objectives of his flight on the runway at Joint Base Andrews on Thursday, Blinken said mitigating collateral damage would be “very much on the agenda.”

“We will talk about concrete steps that can and should be taken to reduce the harm to men, women and children in Gaza, and this is something the United States is committed to,” he said. “When I see a Palestinian child, boy or girl, being pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building, it hits me in the gut as much as seeing a child in Israel or anywhere else does. So this is something we have a duty to.” Answer, we will.”

Photo: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, speaks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 3, 2023.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, speaks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 3, 2023.

Jonathan Ernst/Swimming pool photo via AP

Blinken added that he is also “intensely focused” on releasing more than 240 hostages that Israeli officials say are still being held by Hamas after it launched a surprise terror attack on Israel on October 7, as well as securing American citizens and other foreigners. Citizens can continue to exit Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

“Good news. Today we took out 74 Americans,” President Joe Biden announced in the Oval Office on Thursday, referring to the number of American citizens allowed to leave the besieged enclave after an agreement allowed some individuals to cross into Egypt for the first time since the Gaza border was closed in the wake of the Hamas rampage. .

The administration estimates there are still more than 300 Americans and hundreds more of their immediate family members waiting to leave, and US officials have warned that the situation remains volatile — with every movement in and out of Gaza the result of intense negotiations between many parties. Parties with competing interests.

“I think we need a pause,” Biden said after a protester interrupted him as he called for a ceasefire at a fundraiser on Wednesday evening, saying that would “give time to get the prisoners out.”

Later, White House spokesman John Kirby said the administration would “explore the idea of ​​multiple pauses” as part of its “work to get people out safely, including hostages.”

He explained, “What we are talking about is a temporary and local cessation of fighting to achieve a specific goal or objectives.”

US officials have argued that such pauses would not amount to a ceasefire, saying a ceasefire would mean a long break in fighting, which they say would give Hamas the opportunity to regroup. But they also acknowledged that they had no expectation that Hamas fighters or other designated terrorist groups operating in the region would abide by the terms of even a short-term truce, meaning the administration’s efforts to create a truce are focused solely on Israel.

There is already some evidence to suggest that the Biden administration’s increased focus on the plight of Palestinians is benefiting Americans directly affected by the conflict.

Officials familiar with efforts to facilitate the exit of foreign nationals from Gaza say Qatar — which has proven influential with Hamas, whose leaders have hosted in its capital, Doha, for years — has helped bridge the impasse, but the departure has been unclear. This was also made possible by the success of the US-led campaign to steadily increase the amount of humanitarian aid allowed into the region.

Maintaining this cooperation at this crossing requires maintaining cooperation with Middle Eastern leaders – including many who have called for an end to the bombing of Gaza for weeks. Israel has been warning civilians not to leave the area for weeks.

“without [a cease-fire]“The United States will find its moral authority in the Middle East increasingly diminished, especially among its partners in the region and an Arab public that is mobilizing at levels not seen since the Arab Spring revolutions,” said Elham Fakhro, an associate fellow at the Washington Institute for Middle East Research. Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme.

While the administration has shown no willingness to bend that far, as Biden and Kirby have suggested, the administration hopes that achieving sustained pauses in the conflict will strengthen diplomacy and jumpstart the sluggish negotiations to free dozens of hostages still held in Gaza.

“Both domestic and international pressures to prioritize hostages, perhaps even including a ceasefire, are growing, along with conflicting internal demands to pursue comprehensive retaliation against Hamas,” said Paul Sham, a non-resident Middle East researcher. Orient Institute.

But some, like Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former National Security Council official, fear that the administration may give up too much in the process — inadvertently benefiting America’s adversaries.

“Qatar is coordinating hostage negotiations with Hamas and Iran to maximize benefits for all three,” Goldberg said. “Qatar is a Hamas ally, sponsor and host. It has no right to conduct hostage negotiations on behalf of anyone.”

The United States has classified Hamas as a terrorist organization.

While the administration remains steadfast in its assertion of Israel’s right to defend itself, it is also increasingly aware of the political problem created by the perception among some Palestinian and Arab Americans that the president has turned a blind eye to the suffering inside Gaza.

The White House’s announcement on Wednesday that it would develop a national strategy to combat Islamophobia was seen by many as a move aimed at limiting backlash from Democrats, and Kirby indicated that the president would not support the legislation passed by the House on Thursday evening, which stipulates that the president will not support legislation passed by the House Representatives on Thursday evening. It provided funding only for Israeli national security and ignored other administration requests, including humanitarian aid for Gaza.

“The president will veto an Israel-only bill,” Kirby said on Thursday. “I think we’ve made that clear.”

ABC News’ Mary Bruce and Molly Nagel contributed to this report.

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