A US-Palestine reset needs to extend beyond aid

Blinken's visit will help revive ties, but Washington must push for a lasting peace process

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in West Bank city of Ramallah, May 25, 2021. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in the Middle East to bolster last week's ceasefire that ended an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas. At the start of his visit, Mr Blinken gave a boost to the revival of US-Palestine ties, and as he continues his travels, he will strengthen co-ordination efforts with Washington's regional allies to rebuild the devastated Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Since arriving on Monday, America's top diplomat has held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He has also met President Abdel Fattah El Sisi of Egypt, whose government led the efforts to mediate an end to the war, and is due to visit King Abdullah in Jordan.

Mr Blinken’s talks with Mr Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh are an important development.

Relations between Washington and Ramallah have been frayed in recent years, particularly since the previous Trump administration's controversial decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 – thereby effectively recognising the latter as that country's capital. The move raised great concerns among Palestinians and all those who believe in a two-state solution, as East Jerusalem is to be the capital of any future Palestinian state.

After "years of neglect" of the Palestinian people, as President Joe Biden described it, the US is now appearing to make amends, by pledging $75 million in  development and economic aidIt will give another $32m to UNRWA,the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

That Washington has renewed its ties with the PA is significant, also because it does not see Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, as part of the solution. Speaking to The National, Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, highlighted in detail the challenges of working with Gaza's residents who are not only homeless but, in many cases, possibly suffering from mental health issues – all during a time of pandemic.

Even as the dust settles over the city's ruins, much-needed UN-led relief operations are already under way. That and the Biden administration's renewed engagement with the Palestinian people and its Arab partners, after months of appearing to withdraw from the region, are significant developments.

However, Washington needs to do more – starting by bringing Palestine and Israel back to the negotiating table with the purpose of creating a viable Palestinian state that would, once and for all, bring peace to both peoples. This cycle of conflict alone has claimed the lives of at least 250 Palestinians, including 66 children, and those of 10 Israelis, including one child.

The status quo is simply unacceptable, and as Mr Lazzarini warned, “providing humanitarian assistance will not be enough to prevent a new cycle of violence in Gaza”. One hopes that Mr Blinken’s visit marks the first step towards securing lasting peace, rather than sticking yet another Band-Aid on a wound that has festered for decades.