Blinken: October 7 can never happen again; war’s toll on Gazans ‘far too high’; US working to forge path forward

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2024. (Lazar Berman / The Times of Israel)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2024. (Lazar Berman / The Times of Israel)

At the outset of his press conference in Tel Aviv, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken starts by drawing parallels between Israel and Palestinians feeling the effects of the war.

He speaks of the families of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza for whom every minute that they are separated from their loved ones “is an eternity,” and he refers to the hundreds of thousands of Gaza’s civilians who are facing “acute food insecurity.” He says Israelis and Palestinians have lost “innocent loved ones.”

“We continue to stand with Israel to ensure that October 7 can never happen again,” he stresses, and highlights the imperatives of bringing the remaining hostages home, “addressing the humanitarian crisis,” “strengthening of protections for civilians in Gaza,” and “preventing the conflict from spreading.”

The US is “working urgently to forge a path toward lasting peace and security in this region,” he says.

He says the genocide allegation against Israel at the International Court of Justice distracts from all these efforts.

Moreover, the charge of genocide brought by South Africa in the ICJ is “meritless,” he says, calling it “particularly galling” because “Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and their supporter Iran continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.”

Everywhere he stopped in the region, Blinken says, the leaders he met stressed their concern over the spread of the conflict and all pledged to use their influence to try “to prevent it from escalating and deter new fronts from opening.”

All the leaders also expressed concern about the “dire humanitarian situation and the number of civilians killed in Gaza.”

He acknowledges that fighting Hamas, which hides among civilians and “fires from schools and hospitals,” makes it “incredibly challenging” for Israel. “But the daily toll on Gazans, particularly on children, is far too high.”

Israel has made progress on getting aid into Gaza, but “90% of Gaza’s population continues to face acute food insecurity according to the United Nations,” he says.

“More food, more water, more medicine and other essential goods” need to get into Gaza, and need to get to the people who need them, he adds, while underscoring that Israel needs to do everything it can to allow for aid to move “safely and securely” throughout Gaza.

He hails the UN’s “indispensable role” in addressing Gaza’s humanitarian needs. “There is simply no alternative,” he says.

He says Israel has made “significant progress” in its military campaign, while noting that Israel is moving to a new “lower intensity” phase in the northern Gaza Strip and scaling down its forces there.

He says that he and his Israeli hosts agreed to a new plan under which the UN will carry out “an assessment mission” to determine what needs to be done to “allow displaced Palestinians to return safely to homes in the north.

“Now, this is not going to happen overnight,” he says, citing “serious security, infrastructure and humanitarian” obstacles. But this UN assessment mission will start the process.

“Palestinian civilians must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow,“ he says, adding that they must “not be pressed to leave Gaza.” Blinken says he told Netanyahu that “the United States unequivocally rejects any proposal advocating for the settlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza,” and that the PM “reaffirmed to me today that this is not the policy of Israel’s government.”

Regarding the northern border and Hezbollah’s attacks, he says, the US stands with Israel in ensuring its northern border is secure and is committed to finding a diplomatic solution that avoids escalation “and allows families to return to their homes — to live securely in northern Israel and southern Lebanon.”

Blinken says that all of America’s regional allies that he met on this trip told him that peace with Israel was attainable, that they “are ready to support a lasting solution that ends the longrunning cycle of violence and ensures Israel’s security,” but they stressed it could only come through an integrated, “regional approach that includes the pathway to a Palestinian state.

“These goals are attainable, but only if they are pursued together,” he says. “This crisis has clarified that you can’t have one without the other, and you can’t achieve either goal without an integrated, regional approach.”

“To make this possible,” he goes on, “Israel must be a partner to Palestinian leaders who are willing to lead their people in living side by side in peace with Israel and as neighbors. And Israel,” he says, “must stop taking steps that undercut Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves effectively.”

He references “extremist settler violence carried out with impunity, settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions,” which he says all make it harder for Israel to achieve lasting peace and security.”

He says the Palestinian Authority also must “reform itself, to improve its governance” — and says he will raise these issues with PA President Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow.

“If Israel wants its Arab neighbors to make the tough decisions necessary to help ensure its lasting security, Israeli leaders will have to make hard decisions themselves,” says Blinken.

The friendship between our nations is “truly exceptional,” he says. And that friendship and commitment “demands that we’re as forthright as possible in moments when the stakes are highest, when the choices matter the most. This is one of those moments.”

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