Blinken calls on Israelis and Palestinians not to inflame tension amid deadly violence

US Secretary of State lands in Tel Aviv on regional tour during a spate of trouble

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on Israelis and Palestinians not to inflame tension amid one of the deadliest recent surges of violence in the decades-long conflict.

He landed in Tel Aviv on Monday during a tour of the Middle East that he said came at a “pivotal moment”.

“It's the responsibility of everyone to take steps to calm tensions rather than inflame them,” he said.

He urged both sides to work towards reviving the long-stalled two-state solution as the “only path” forward.

Mr Blinken said America's commitment to Israel's security remained iron-clad after a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he urged both Israelis and Palestinians to take “urgent steps” to de-escalate.

But Mr Blinken added that “anything that moves us away from a two-state solution is detrimental to Israel's long-term security”.

The US will continue to support the status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem, he said in an apparent reference to recent visits to Al Aqsa Mosque compound by right-wing Israeli minister Itamar Ben-Gvir that stoked tension and led to protest from Palestinians.

The new cabinet, which has prompted widespread demonstrations across Israel and from Palestinians ― praised by Mr Blinken as a show of “vibrancy” ― has vowed to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank following Friday's deadly attack on a synagogue in annexed East Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu said Israel would do everything in its power to block Iran from getting nuclear weapons but made no comment on recent attacks on Iranian drone factories.

Mr Blinken said the pair also discussed Ukraine's defences but gave no detail on specifics. However, following a later meeting with the US envoy, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said their embassy in Kyiv will return to full activity within weeks.

In a press conference with the foreign Minister, Mr Blinken pledged US support against Iran.

“Iran is a threat not only of Israel in the region, but increasingly to the world as we've seen recently, in its provision of drones to Russia to prosecute its war of aggression in Ukraine,” Mr Blinken said.

He also met Israeli President Isaac Herzog, whose leadership he praised, especially with regard to the country's judicial system, which Mr Netanyahu's government is seeking to reform.

Mr Blinken said he appreciated the clarity of Mr Herzog's “voice when it comes to finding a good way forward that builds consensus on the question of judicial reform and, of course, your voice, your vision on so many of the other issues that we’re dealing with together as strong allies and strong partners”.

Israel is reeling from Friday's attack that killed seven civilians, a day after the deadliest army raid in years in the occupied West Bank claimed 10 Palestinian lives.

Mr Blinken said the deaths of civilians were deplorable.

“To take an innocent life in an act of terrorism is always a heinous crime but to target people outside their place of worship is especially shocking,” he said, referring to Friday's attack.

“We condemn it in the strongest terms. We condemn all those who celebrate these and any other acts of terrorism that take civilian lives, no matter who the victim is or what they believe,” he said.

“Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer. And acts of retaliatory violence against civilians are never justified.”

Months of Israeli raids on the occupied West Bank have led to the highest Palestinian death toll in a single month for years.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli forces had killed a Palestinian man in the flashpoint city of Hebron on Monday, bringing the toll to 35 for this month alone, the highest since 2015.

The continuing violence is stoking fears that this year could be the deadliest for Palestinians in decades, as the far-right Mr Netanyahu makes his mark in his first few weeks back in office.

His government has promised to take a tough stance against the Palestinians and step up settlement construction.

Mr Blinken's visit, which was planned before the flare-up, is already expected to be fraught with tension over differences between US President Joe Biden's administration and Mr Netanyahu’s government, which is made up of settlement supporters.

The US official has already discussed the issue in a brief visit to Egypt on Sunday and Monday. He and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said their nations were working together to bring the violence to an end.

Washington remains “a stalwart believer in the negotiated two-state solution — the only path to a lasting resolution for the conflict”, Mr Blinken said in earlier remarks in Cairo.

However, recent data indicates that public support for a two-state solution has reached a historic low.

According to a survey published last week by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Research, only 33 per cent of Palestinians and 34 per cent of Israeli Jews said they support it, marking a significant drop from data collected in 2020.

Two thirds of Palestinians and 53 per cent of Israeli Jews said they were opposed to the two-state solution.

Updated: January 31, 2023, 9:22 AM