US sets out Middle East peace vision with Arab-Israeli ties, two states and Iran isolated

Secretary of State Antony Blinken tells Davos forum 'the choice is there' after Israel-Gaza war

Antony Blinken says scenes from Gaza are 'gut-wrenching'

Antony Blinken says scenes from Gaza are 'gut-wrenching'
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The US vision for a postwar Middle East involves a route to a Palestinian state, an isolated Iran and normalised relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.

Mr Blinken told the World Economic Forum in Davos that “the choice is there” to move to a “different equation” after the Israel-Gaza war.

He said it was up to Israel to decide whether to “seize the opportunity that we believe is there”, and Palestinians to fashion a more effective self-government.

The war has overshadowed the annual gathering of the world's elite in Davos, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar both calling for a push towards sustained peace.

UN Secretary General António Guterres echoed that call on Wednesday, saying a peace process was needed “to stem the suffering, and prevent a spillover that could send the entire region up in flames”.

Mr Blinken said the US shared the “absolute conviction” with Arab countries that any settlement with Israel “has to include a pathway to a Palestinian state”.

The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020, while the US has been brokering talks on normalisation with Saudi Arabia.

“If you pursue integration with security, with a Palestinian state, all of a sudden you have a region that’s come together in ways that answer the most profound questions that Israel’s tried to answer for years,” Mr Blinken said.

In such a scenario, Iran would be “suddenly isolated, along with its proxies” and would “have to make decisions about what it wants its future to be”, said Mr Blinken.

Part of a postwar future should also be a “stronger, reformed” Palestinian Authority that can “more effectively deliver for its own people”, he added.

Western diplomats have expressed interest in working with the PA as a moderate alternative to Hamas, which currently governs Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have both signalled during the conflict that they are unwilling to accept a two-state solution. But that is the very solution that is required, Mr Blinken told Davos.

“The problem is getting from here to there, and of course it requires very difficult challenging decisions,” he said. “It requires a mindset that’s open to that perspective. The choice is there, and ultimately this is about choices.”

For Israel “this is a profound decision for the country as a whole to make”, he said. “What direction does it want to take? Can it seize the opportunity that we believe is there? They’ll have to make those decisions.”

He acknowledged that any peace settlement would not “happen overnight” but, quoting Martin Luther King Jr, spoke of a “fierce urgency of now” to make progress.

The World Economic Forum in Davos – in pictures

After Davos was told that disinformation was the world's top threat in a bumper year of elections, Mr Blinken warned that many people do not believe Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel “actually happened”.

Rejecting the accusation that the US values Israeli lives over Palestinian ones, Mr Blinken blamed the “poison of dehumanisation” for damaging societies and international relations.

“What we’re seeing every single day in Gaza is gut-wrenching, and the suffering we’re seeing among innocent men, women and children breaks my heart. The question is what is to be done,” he said.

“There has to be, and there is, another way, that answers Israel’s most profound concerns and questions. Israelis have to live with security. They can’t have a repeat of October 7.”

Also speaking in Davos, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said the war would spread out "if the genocide does not stop" in Gaza.

Mr Amirabdollahian said Iran did not welcome an enlargement of the war but pointed the blame at Israel which, he said, had responded with 10 times the violence it suffered from Hamas.

He also accused the US of making a "strategic mistake" by supporting Israel and claimed it was responsible for having "brought the conflict to the Red Sea".

The US and UK launched air strikes on Yemen's Houthi rebels last week in response to attacks by the militants on Red Sea shipping.

The deputy chairman of Yemen's presidential council, part of its internationally recognised government, told Davos that the Houthis were trying to exploit the Palestinian cause.

Aidarus Al Zoubad welcomed the air strikes as he accused the Houthis of "causing escalation and affecting the humanitarian situation in Yemen".

"Most of the population relies heavily on imports, so the population are suffering greatly. What the Houthis have perpetrated is unacceptable and we welcome what the US and UK did," he said.

Updated: January 17, 2024, 4:34 PM