At Davos, Blinken says ‘genuine security’ for Israel requires two-state solution

Top US diplomat acknowledges hurdles to goal, stresses need for strong, reformed Palestinian Authority; Iran’s FM says Gaza facing ‘genocide’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gestures during his speech at the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gestures during his speech at the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Israel cannot achieve “genuine security” without a pathway to a Palestinian state, insisting such a move could help unify the Middle East and isolate Israel’s top rival: Iran.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, Blinken said the view of leaders in the Arab and Muslim world have changed on Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state would help Israel integrate into the region.

“The problem is getting from here to there, and of course, it requires very difficult, challenging decisions. It requires a mindset that is open to that perspective,” Blinken said.

The Biden administration has been at pains to navigate between longtime US support for Israel and growing concerns that too many Palestinian civilians have been killed or injured in Israel’s war against Hamas terrorists since their deadly October 7 rampage in Israel.

Blinken reiterated the need for a “pathway to a Palestinian state.”

“You’re not going to get the genuine security you need absent that. And, of course, to that end as well, a stronger, reformed Palestinian Authority that can more effectively deliver for its own people has to be part of the equation,” Blinken said.

Participants walk through the congress center of the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

An effective PA can only operate “with the support, with the help, of Israel, not with its active opposition,” Blinken said.

“Even the most effective Authority is going to have a lot of trouble if it’s got the active opposition of any Israeli government,” he said.

The United States has backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to eradicate Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, and has called for the PA, led by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, gradually to take over control in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu leads a right-wing government that is opposed to Palestinian statehood, and Netanyahu himself recently said that his actions over the years prevented the formation of such a state. He has long denounced the PA as supporting terror.

In one point of contention, the United States has been pressing Israel to release tax revenue that it collects on behalf of the PA.

Blinken said that the PA was working to address fundamental issues including eliminating corruption and improving transparency, which “they can’t on their own deliver without partnership with Israel.”

While not directly answering a question about Netanyahu’s hard-right government, Blinken noted that critics in the past have accused the Palestinians of not being ready to accept a two-state solution.

“The question now is, is Israeli society prepared to engage on these questions? Is it prepared to have that mindset?” he said.

His comments came as Iran’s foreign minister graced the same hallways of the glitzy event in the Alpine snows: Hossein Amirabdollahian warned that fighting could intensify in the region if Israel does not end its campaign.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian gestures during a discussion at the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

“Today, we are witnessing genocide in Gaza and the West Bank, this means that war is ongoing, so there is a possibility of extension,” Amirabdollahian said in a separate Q&A session. He did not meet with Blinken.

The top Iranian diplomat also acknowledged a missile strike Tuesday on Pakistan, calling it part of a fight against “terrorism,” and said Iran targeted Israeli sites in Iraq this week — moves that threaten to further ignite violence in the Middle East. The governments of Pakistan and Iraq both criticized the action directed by Tehran.

“We do respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan — also that of Iraq — but we don’t allow our security to be compromised and played with,” Amirabdollahian said through a translator.

With a barrage of attacks in recent days heightening fears of a broader war in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on a Davos panel Tuesday that the kingdom agreed “regional peace includes peace for Israel.” He said Saudi Arabia “certainly” would recognize Israel as part of a larger political agreement.

“But that can only happen through peace for the Palestinians, through a Palestinian state,” he said.

Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund who is believed to be a candidate for a future leadership position in the PA, said the international community has to “move fast and boldly to stop this aggression.”

He said the first step is getting food, water, medicine, and other aid into Gaza to prevent hunger from causing more deaths, then pivot to what he calls the root problem: occupation.

“Occupation cannot continue,” he said. “No people will accept to be oppressed the way Palestinian people have been oppressed.”

Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, sits in front of camera during an interview at the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The leaders of France, Argentina, and Spain also delivered speeches on a busy second day of the elite gathering, where heads of state mingle with corporate executives, activists, and more.

Attendees are taking up other weighty issues, such as artificial intelligence and climate change, with International Monetary Fund head Kristalina Georgieva saying she is “sick and tired” of hearing people say climate funding is too expensive.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not hold back either: “Let me be very clear — the phaseout of fossil fuels is essential and inevitable.”

He cited scientists’ recent findings that last year was the hottest on record and warned that “droughts, storms, fires, and floods are pummeling countries and communities.”

To combat those effects, Colombian President Gustavo Petro called for an “American pact” on developing clean energy sources, which would also help ease the economic disparities between North and South America.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro takes part in a panel at the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Meanwhile, Pope Francis urged business leaders at Davos to “be increasingly guided not simply by the pursuit of fair profit, but also by high ethical standards” because national governments cannot regulate the global economy for the common good.

The pope sent a letter to Davos organizers saying wars worldwide show the need to tackle what he called the root causes of conflicts: economic injustices, hunger, and exploitation of natural resources.

Blinken, who met at Davos this week with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and others, was asked in a conversation with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman whether Jewish lives matter more than Palestinian lives. He responded, “No, period.”

“What we’re seeing every single day in Gaza is gut-wrenching,” he said.

To ease that suffering, the US is pushing to get more humanitarian assistance to Palestinians and press Israel to ensure it minimizes civilian casualties, Blinken said.

South Africa has formally accused Israel of genocide against Palestinians and pleaded with the top UN court to order Israel to halt military operations in Gaza.

Israel has responded by calling its war a legitimate defense of its people and saying Hamas is guilty of genocide, focusing on the terror group’s October 7 massacre that triggered the war, when terrorists rampaged through southern communities, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and captured around 240 to Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Wednesday that the death toll in the Strip had reached at least 24,448 people. The figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 9,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

France, along with Qatar, helped mediate an agreement to ship medicine into Gaza for dozens of hostages held by Hamas. The shipment is due to arrive Wednesday, the same day French leader Emmanuel Macron is speaking in Davos.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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