Blinken: More that can and should be done to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media at the end of the India-US '2+2' ministerial dialogue in New Delhi on November 10, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media at the end of the India-US '2+2' ministerial dialogue in New Delhi on November 10, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says “much more needs to be done to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches them” in Gaza.

“Far too many Palestinians have been killed; far too many have suffered these past weeks, and we want to do everything possible to prevent harm to them and to maximize the assistance that gets to them,” Blinken tells reporters on the sidelines of the US-India Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi. “More that can and should be done.”

Blinken expresses his appreciation for the decision by Israel yesterday to begin implementing daily, four-hour humanitarian pauses in specific areas of northern Gaza to allow Palestinians to evacuate or stock up on food, water, medicine or other essentials amid the fighting.

He urges the allowing of additional trucks of humanitarian aid into Gaza as well as ensuring that there’s an “adequate supply” of fuel to power things such as hospitals and desalination plants.

The secretary says the US will continue discussing concrete steps Israel can take to protect civilians amid the fighting in Gaza while also working “relentlessly” to get the 239 hostages home, intensifying efforts to expand access of humanitarian aid into the Strip, deterring adversaries from opening additional fronts against Israel and working toward an eventual two-state solution when the war ends.

Blinken says the US has put together a series of “basic principles” that will guide the post-war peace effort: no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza; no use of Gaza as a platform for terror attacks against Israel; no reduction in the territory of Gaza; and a commitment to Palestinian-led governance for Gaza and for the West Bank, and in a unified way.

This handout photo taken and released on November 10, 2023, by the Indian Press Information Bureau (PIB) shows US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2R), India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (2L), US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (R) and his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh (3L) during the India-US ‘2+2’ ministerial dialogue in New Delhi (Photo by PIB / AFP)

“These and some other ideas that we’ve put forward and that others share, and that I think, can start to be the basis for what we need to do,” Blinken says.

Israel does not appear to be on board with some of these principles, however. Israeli officials, including Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, have indicated that the IDF will have to create a buffer zone within Gaza in order to prevent future attacks.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel does not want to reoccupy or govern Gaza after the war, he also says that the IDF will remain in control of Gaza after the war and that Israel will maintain overall security responsibility over the Strip for an indefinite period after the war, and it is not clear whether those statements contradict each other.

Amid criticism that the Biden administration had been paying mere lip service to the two-state solution before the war, Blinken asserts that the US has “long been committed to two states.”

The criticism was bolstered after Foreign Affairs published a print version of an article written by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan before the October 7 onslaught, which boasted US efforts to maintain calm in the Middle East, while not making any mention of the two-state solution. The online version, which went live after the Hamas massacre removed the line claiming that the region is the quietest it’s been in decades and adds a line about the importance of a two-state solution.

“When we came to office, the conditions certainly didn’t look like they were ripe to advance that in the moment. We first needed to try to make sure that there was as much calm as possible, and then to try to build from there,” the secretary says.

This picture taken from the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip on November 10, 2023, shows smoke rising above buildings during an Israeli strike on the northern part of the Palestinian enclave(Photo by Jack Guez / AFP)

He notes that over the last two and a half years, the US has pushed back on moves by Israel to expand settlements, legalize wildcat outposts, demolish Palestinian homes, evict Palestinians, harm the status quo at Jerusalem holy sites along with settler violence.

Blinken points to regional meetings the US organized in Egypt and Jordan earlier this year that brought together Israeli and Palestinian leaders for political and economic discussions, which were the first of their kind in over a decade.

He also highlights the efforts the US has made to advance Israel’s integration in the region, including talks with Saudi Arabia to normalize with Israel that the sides said were rapidly advancing before the war broke out. Blinken insisted those negotiations were “not as a substitute for a Palestinian state but actually as a way to advance it.”

“But now we’ve had… almost beyond the human imagination the horror of October 7th. That only reinforces us in our conviction and our commitment to durable and lasting peace, which again, we see through two states,” Blinken says.

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