Blinken shifts tone in latest trip to Israel and West Bank

After more than six weeks of war, US appetite for unrestrained conflict appears to be waning

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday. AFP
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When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to reporters at the InterContinental hotel in Tel Aviv on Thursday night, his message and tone had shifted significantly since his first appearance at the luxury hotel on October 12.

The harsh and deadly realities of Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip – where more than 15,000 Palestinians have been killed according to the Gaza Ministry of Health – have slowly eaten away at Washington’s resolve to support Israel no matter what.

In the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attack, when Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel and killed more than 1,200 people and kidnapped close to 240 more, Mr Blinken travelled to Israel in a forceful show of support.

He made it clear that Washington stood behind Israel and supported whatever actions it felt necessary to deal a death blow to Hamas.

“I came to Israel bearing a simple message: the United States stands with Israel and with its people. Today, tomorrow, everyday,” Mr Blinken said on October 12.

In that address, Mr Blinken made only passing reference to Palestinians and their suffering.

“It’s so important to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians,” Mr Blinken said, standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We mourn the loss of every innocent life, civilians of every faith, every nationality who have been killed.”

Washington’s top diplomat has made three trips to the region since October 7, including four stops in Israel as the US works to support Israel and, increasingly, to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Six weeks of bloody conflict, a tense week-long truce which expired early on Friday morning, and mounting global and domestic pressure on the Biden administration to rein in Israel’s assault on one of the most densely populated places on Earth appears to be influencing Washington’s approach.

US President Joe Biden's policy on Israel and the war in Gaza have led to a fall in his popularity among Muslim and Arab Americans, and increasing numbers of fellow Democrats are pressuring him to do more to push for a permanent ceasefire.

On Thursday, Mr Blinken once again made it clear that the US supported Israel’s right to defend itself and its efforts to defeat Hamas, but his words were less forceful than previous statements, and he stressed that the death and destruction Israel inflicted on northern Gaza must not be repeated in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians are seeking shelter.

“I made clear that before Israel resumes major military operations it must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimise further casualties of innocent Palestinians,” he said.

“That means taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians, including by clearly and precisely designating areas and places in southern and central Gaza where they can be safe and out of the line of fire.”

As Israel resumes its offensive in Gaza on Friday, it is unclear whether Israeli leaders will heed Mr Blinken’s words.

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Updated: December 01, 2023, 10:08 AM