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'Hamas thrives on despair, on misery, on desperation'

Blinken: Hamas’s foothold in Gaza could slip if US-led rehabilitation successful

Top US diplomat indicates plans for active US involvement in region after 11-day conflict, while stressing administration’s support for two-state solution

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

In the wake of the recent conflict in Gaza and unrest in Jerusalem, the United States plans to focus on addressing “the underlying causes” that could spark yet another round of violence, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday evening.

Speaking at a press conference in central Jerusalem, Blinken indicated that the Biden administration will be actively involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, echoing comments he made earlier in the day during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“America’s words matter, America’s actions matter, America’s engagement matters,” he stressed.

Blinken is the highest-level American official to visit Israel since US President Joe Biden entered office in January.

He met with top Israeli officials Tuesday — including Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz — before heading to Ramallah for high-level meetings with Palestinian Authority leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrive for a joint press conference in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The top US diplomat argued that rebuilding Gaza and improving conditions in the Strip will weaken Hamas, the terror group that rules the coastal territory.

“If we do this right, reconstruction and then relief for the people of Gaza — far from empowering Hamas — has the potential to undermine it,” Blinken said. “Hamas thrives, unfortunately, on despair, on misery, on desperation, on a lack of opportunity.”

America’s goal is to “give the Palestinian people, including those in Gaza, a renewed sense of confidence, of optimism, of real opportunity,” Blinken said. “If we are able to do that together, then Hamas’s foothold in Gaza will slip. We know that, and I think Hamas knows that.”

People clean the streets of debris beside a building  following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Blinken said earlier in the day that the Biden administration will ask Congress to approve $75 million in aid to the Palestinians.

Humanitarian aid and reconstruction  could put efforts for a two-state solution back on track, Blinken said, calling it “the only way to truly ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and to give the Palestinians the state they’re entitled to.”

“Leaders on both sides will need to chart a better course, starting by making real improvement in the lives of people in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank,” he said.

Blinken was noncommittal regarding a timeline for the re-opening of a US consulate in Jerusalem that serves the needs of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But he stressed the importance of having “that platform to be able to more effectively engage not just the Palestinian Authority, but Palestinians from different walks of life.”

Blinken also stressed the “critical role” played by Egypt in brokering the Gaza ceasefire, and called Jordan “a voice for peace and stability in the region.”

Blinken will visit Egypt and Jordan Wednesday after meeting with opposition leader Yair Lapid and President Reuven Rivlin.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken before their meeting in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between Israel and Hamas. (Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP)

Blinken laid out four objectives for his trip: to demonstrate the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security; to work to reduce tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem; to support reconstruction in Gaza, and to rebuild the US relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people.

Blinken spoke of conversations with two local State Department staff: one Israeli from the Gaza periphery area, and one Palestinian from the Strip. “Both recounted how the violence in recent weeks repeatedly forced them and their families to take cover. Both feared they would be killed.”

Turning to the talks in Vienna on the return of the US and Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal, Blinken emphasized that “the United States and Israel are absolutely united in the proposition that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

“We share exactly the same goal. It’s no secret that sometimes we have differences about the best way to achieve that goal.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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