ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Blinken says pathway to Palestinian state best way to stabilize region, isolate Iran

Wrapping up Mideast visit, US top diplomat says one path sees Israel safely integrated into region in exchange for solution to conflict, another sees Iran-backed terror persist

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to members of the media before boarding his plane to return to Washington, following his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in Cairo, Egypt, January 11, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to members of the media before boarding his plane to return to Washington, following his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in Cairo, Egypt, January 11, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool via AP)

Creating a pathway to a Palestinian state is the best way to stabilize the wider region and isolate Iran and its proxies, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday, as he ended a frenetic regional tour over the Israel-Hamas war.

Shuttling between Israel and Arab states, Blinken has been pushing for a way forward from the bloodshed in Gaza, even as the conflict threatens to spread further to Lebanon, Iraq and Red Sea shipping lanes.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, Blinken said the region faced two paths, the first of which would see “Israel integrated, with security assurances and commitments from regional countries and as well from the United States, and a Palestinian state — at least a pathway to get to that state.”

“The other path is to continue to see the terrorism, the nihilism, the destruction by Hamas, by the Houthis, by Hezbollah — all backed by Iran,” he said.

“If you pursue the first path… that’s the single best way to isolate, to marginalize Iran and the proxies that are making so much trouble — for us and for pretty much everyone else in the region.”

Blinken’s visit came a day after Egypt and Jordan warned that Israel’s military campaign must not displace the strip’s population or end in an Israeli occupation.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (R) meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cairo at the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace on January 11, 2024. (Egyptian Presidency/AFP)

Israeli leaders and the US have insisted that this is not the plan, but Egypt has grown alarmed as more Gazans are driven towards its border with the enclave, and as hard-right Israeli ministers have touted the prospect of encouraging Gazans to emigrate.

Hostage mediation

Egypt along with Qatar has been trying to mediate between Hamas and Israel to broker a ceasefire and secure the release of more Israeli hostages, as well as pushing for more aid to be delivered into southern Gaza.

Blinken was briefed on those efforts during his meeting with Sissi and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, according to a statement from Sissi’s office. Both sides stated their rejection of any displacement of Palestinians from their lands, the statement said.

Blinken told NBC in an interview on Tuesday that he was hopeful Hamas would engage in ongoing negotiations over the release of hostages, after a deal in late November saw fighting paused and more than 100 hostages released.

Israel launched a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza after thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, the large majority of whom were civilians, while also committing atrocities including mass rape and torture, and taking captive some 240 hostages.

Blinken, who has visited nine countries and the West Bank in a week, brought a rough agreement to Israel that its Muslim-majority neighbors would help rehabilitate Gaza after the war and continue economic integration with Israel, but only if Israel commits to eventually allowing the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, during his weeklong trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in the Muqata’a, in Ramallah in the West Bank on January 10, 2024. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/Pool/AFP)

That state would incorporate Gaza and the West Bank, where Blinken met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah on Wednesday.

However, there appears to be little appetite in Israel — among the public or its leadership — for talk of Palestinian statehood, after October 7’s massive attack from a territory from which Israel had withdrawn in 2005.

Washington wants the unpopular PA to undertake reforms and regain credibility in order to take charge of Gaza if and when Israel achieves its goal of eliminating Hamas, which has ruled the strip since 2007.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 23,000 people have been killed in the fighting, though these figures cannot be independently verified, and include both civilians and combatants, some as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 8,500 Hamas fighters in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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