POLITICS

Blinken seeks Palestinian governance reform for postwar Gaza as deadly Israeli strikes continue

Jan 10, 2024, 12:10 AM | Updated: 3:28 pm

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed the Palestinian president Wednesday to reform his government, seeking to rally the region behind postwar plans for Gaza that include concrete steps toward a Palestinian state.

The U.S. wants a reformed Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza once the war is over. Getting President Mahmoud Abbas on board, as well as other Arab countries the U.S. hopes will help rebuild Gaza, depends on promising movement toward a Palestinian state after years of a defunct peace process.

But the vision outlined by Blinken faces serious obstacles.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has so far rejected Palestinian Authority control in Gaza and adamantly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The autocratic, Western-backed Palestinian leadership, whose forces were driven from Gaza when Hamas took over in 2007, lacks legitimacy in the view of many Palestinians.

The war in Gaza is still raging with no end in sight, fueling a humanitarian catastrophe in the tiny coastal enclave. Israeli strikes on Wednesday hit an ambulance and a building near a hospital in central Gaza, killing some two dozen people, health officials said.

The fighting has also stoked escalating violence between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants that has raised fears of a wider conflict.

BLINKEN PRESSURES BOTH SIDES ON WHIRLWIND TRIP

On his fourth visit to the region since the war began three months ago, Blinken has met in recent days with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. He says they have agreed to help rebuild the territory and that wider Israeli-Arab normalization is still possible, but only if there is “a pathway to a Palestinian state.”

The Saudi ambassador to the U.K. went even further Tuesday, a landmark normalization agreement with Israel, but that it must include “nothing less than an independent state of Palestine.”

“One doesn’t come without the other,” Prince Khalid bin Bandar said.

In their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Blinken told Palestinian President Abbas that the U.S. supports “tangible steps” toward a Palestinian state, according to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Blinken said later that they discussed reforming the Palestinian Authority so “it can effectively take responsibility for Gaza.” Abbas appeared ready to “engage in all of these efforts,” Blinken said at his next stop, the Bahraini capital of Manama.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said they heard “good statements” from the Americans. “But nothing has happened,” he said. “The priority now is to stop the war on Gaza.”

The 88-year-old Abbas has not stood for election since 2005 and lacks support among his own people.

His Palestinian Authority governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank under interim peace deals reached in the 1990s and cooperates with Israel on security matters. But it has been powerless to prevent the expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied territory it wants for a future state, and there have been no serious or substantive peace talks since Netanyahu returned to office in 2009.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has been unable to get Israel to make even relatively minor concessions to the Palestinians, like turning over all the tax revenue it collects on their behalf or allowing the reopening of a U.S. Consulate to serve Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

After meeting with Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials Tuesday, Blinken delivered a stark message, saying Israel must stop undercutting the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves with its expansion of settlements, home demolitions and evictions in the West Bank.

WAR RAGES ON WITH NO END IN SIGHT

Israel has vowed to keep fighting until it crushes Hamas and returns scores of hostages held by the group after its Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war. Israeli officials say the campaign will continue through the rest of the year. Israel’s own postwar plans call for open-ended military control over the territory, from which it withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005.

Nearly 85% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have been driven from their homes by the fighting, and a quarter of its residents face starvation, with only a trickle of food, water, medicine and other supplies entering through an Israeli siege.

The offensive has reduced much of northern Gaza, including Gaza City, to a moonscape, raising concerns over whether the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled from those areas will ever be able to return.

Far-right members of Netanyahu’s government have called for them to be resettled elsewhere, which critics say would amount to ethnic cleansing. But Netanyahu insisted in a video statement Wednesday that Israel does not aim to expel the Palestinian population.

“I want to make a few points absolutely clear: Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population,” Netanyahu said.

Blinken said he had secured agreement on a U.N. inspection mechanism in northern Gaza to evaluate how and when people can return.

HEAVY FIGHTING IN CENTER AND SOUTH

The military is now focusing major operations on the southern city of Khan Younis and built-up refugee camps in central Gaza that date back to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Hundreds of people have been killed in recent days in strikes across the territory, including in areas of the far south where people have been told to seek refuge.

A heavy strike on Wednesday brought down a two-story building in the central town of Deir al-Balah, close to its main Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, killing at least 20 people, according to Palestinian health officials.

Footage captured by The Associated Press showed dozens of people running in panic as mountains of dust rose into the sky from the blast. Several bloodied corpses were seen lying by the skeleton of the building, where dozens dug for survivors.

Another strike in Deir al-Balah hit an ambulance of the Palestinian Red Crescent, killing four of its crew and two other people, the group said. The ambulance was struck on Salah al-Din Street, the main highway running the length of the enclave, it said in a post on X.

Since the war began, Israel’s offensive has killed more than 23,300 Palestinians and wounded more than 59,000, according to an update issued Wednesday by the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. About two-thirds of the dead are women and children, health officials say. The death toll does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

In the Oct. 7 attack, in which Hamas overwhelmed Israel’s defenses and stormed through several communities, Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians. They abducted around 250 others, nearly half of whom were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November.

The Israeli military says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames the high toll on Hamas because the militants fight in densely populated areas. Israel says it has killed some 8,000 militants — without providing evidence — and that 186 of its own soldiers have been killed in the offensive.

___

Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, and Jeffery from Cairo. Associated Press writers Najib Jobain in Rafah, Gaza Strip, and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

___

Find more of AP’s coverage at: https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Politics

Associated Press

Independent report criticizes Cuomo’s ‘top-down’ management of New York’s COVID-19 response

NEW YORK (AP) — An investigation into New York’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic found former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “top down” approach of dictating public health policy through his office, rather than coordinating with state and local agencies, sewed confusion during the crisis. In the state’s nursing homes, where some 15,000 people died, the administration’s […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging federal rules to accommodate abortions for workers

CHICAGO (AP) — A lawsuit filed by 17 states challenging federal rules entitling workers to time off and other accommodations for abortions lacks standing, a federal judge in Arkansas ruled on Friday. Republican attorneys general from each state, led by Arkansas and Tennessee, sued the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April, days after the agency […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

Guest lineups for the Sunday news shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — ABC’s “This Week” — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen; Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. ___ NBC’s “Meet the Press” — Reps. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., and Ro Khanna, D-Calif. ___ CBS’ “Face the Nation” — Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio; Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. ___ CNN’s […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Las Vegas shooting survivors alarmed at US Supreme Court’s strike down of ban on rifle bump stocks

Survivors of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas and families who received somber calls from police hours later said they were alarmed when the U.S. Supreme Court Friday struck down a ban on the gun attachment used by the shooter who rattled off over 1,000 bullets into a crowd of thousands in 11 minutes. […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Trooper with checkered FBI past convicted of child rape in Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A former FBI agent was convicted Friday of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl while serving as an Alabama state trooper — a law enforcement job he landed even after he was kicked out of the FBI amid earlier claims that he raped a co-worker at knifepoint. Christopher Bauer’s case, first detailed […]

11 hours ago

Associated Press

Reacting to Supreme Court ruling, governor wrongly says Buffalo supermarket killer used bump stock

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Around an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ban on bump stocks, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul wrongly said a gunman who carried out a racist massacre in her hometown of Buffalo had used the gun accessory that can allow semiautomatic rifles to shoot as fast as a machine […]

11 hours ago

Blinken seeks Palestinian governance reform for postwar Gaza as deadly Israeli strikes continue