Following the recent ceasefire, which put a stop to the worst round of violence in years between Israel and the Palestinians, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the region during the last week of May to “discuss essential follow-up efforts to consolidate the ceasefire and reduce risks of further conflict over the coming months.” Blinken made the trip “at the request of President Biden,” according to State Department.
The violence erupted in early May, when Israeli soldiers tried to forcefully evict Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem. Later, Israeli soldiers attacked Palestinian worshipers in Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The violence spread to the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories, Gaza, and Israel. The Israeli military responded with deadly force, resulting in the devastation of Palestinian infrastructure in Gaza and the death of 258 Palestinians including 67 children.
During his trip to the region, Blinken met with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, and Palestinian representatives in Ramallah. The Secretary later pledged that the US would provide “US$38 million in new assistance to support humanitarian efforts in the West Bank and Gaza.” Blinken stressed, however, that “these funds will be administered in a way that benefits the Palestinian people — not Hamas, which has only brought misery and despair to Gaza.”
Later, the US Secretary of State traveled to the Egyptian capital where he met with President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, his Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, and the head of the Egyptian Intelligence, Abbas Kamel. During his meetings in Cairo, Blinken “conveyed President Biden’s appreciation to President Sisi for Egypt’s critical mediation efforts in support of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and other groups in Gaza and for Egypt’s help in evacuating American citizens to safety.”
“We’ve had in Egypt a real and effective partner in dealing with the violence, bringing it to a close, relatively quickly,” Blinken further stated.
Despite the fact that the Secretary’s comments reflect the US’ appreciation of Egypt’s role in putting an end to the violence, the press communiqué which was issued after the meetings revealed that Blinken’s agenda in Cairo was consumed by other subjects which had nothing to do with the ceasefire. For instance, he “reiterated the United States’ commitment to Egypt’s water security and to the urgent resumption of substantive and results oriented negotiations under the leadership of the African Union to resolve the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.” Other issues such as Libya, Iraq, and human rights were also discussed during the meetings.
Hamas, on its part, praised the efforts exerted by Arab and international governments and promised that it “will facilitate the task for everyone. And will make sure that the process would be transparent and fair.” Senior Hamas leader, Yahya Al-Sanwar, stressed that “no money will go to Hamas or Al-Qassam [its military wing].”
Egypt’s part in ending the conflict was more one of a messenger role. Egypt’s political influence in the Middle East has been dwindling for years.
In reality, Egypt’s part in ending the conflict was more one of a messenger role. Egypt’s political influence in the Middle East has been dwindling for years due to internal and external challenges which the country, while facing them, is unable to fix. In Gaza, Egypt has been enforcing a suffocating blockade on Hamas, supplementing the Israeli one. Thus, by caving in to the Israeli demands vis-à-vis Gaza, Egypt’s role as a neutral mediator was largely diminished. And while Egypt continues to have strong ties with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah, the PA’s role has also been weakened by the Israelis and it could hardly be considered an influential player.
In the last leg of his trip to the region, Blinken arrived in Amman, on May 26, where he met with King Abdullah of Jordan and thanked him for his key role in facilitating the ceasefire deal. The King told the US Secretary that “he welcomed the administration’s move to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem.” Though Blinken indicated that reopening the Consulate would take some time.
Similar to his visit to Egypt, the Jordan leg of Blinken’s trip to the region did not only focus on the ceasefire, which could collapse at any moment. Rather, Blinken attempted to mitigate the damage created by the former Trump administration. The Secretary assured his host in Amman that the Hashemite dynasty is actually the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem. Stressing the Hashemite custodianship of the Christian and Muslim holy sites by Secretary Blinken was not a coincidence.
Blinken assured his host in Amman that the Hashemite dynasty is actually the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
According to British daily The Guardian, following the revelation of a coup attempt to unseat King Abdullah of Jordan in March, a plot was drawn up by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his close friend, Jarred Kushner, son-in-law of the former US President, Donald Trump, with the tacit agreement of the Israelis. The endgame, as The Guardian reports, was “to redraw the map of Israel and Palestine” in line with the so-called “Deal of the Century.” The plan indicated an “implicit intention to share control of the Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem, over which the Hashemite dynasty of the King of Jordan has maintained custodianship since 1924.”
If implemented, this move would have destroyed the most important pillars of previous UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and peace agreements between the Jordanians and the Israelis. The contents of the plan were deemed “fatal” by the Jordanians and risked the collapse of the peace agreement signed between the two neighbors in 1994. The London daily rightly concluded that the “Guardianship of Haram al-Sharif, the site of both of al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is a key source of legitimacy for the Hashemites, pre-dating the creation of Jordan and Israel.”
While calming things for the time being, the recent Egypt-brokered ceasefire in response to the most violent series of Israeli-Palestinian clashes in two decades did not succeed in addressing the core issues of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Instead, new facts on the ground suggest things could become further complicated. Indeed, it appears countries in the region that signed the so-called “Abraham Accords” – which established diplomatic ties between Arab nations and Israel – could not play any role in helping bring peace to the conflict, as they claimed to pursue. On the contrary, the UAE, for example, stayed silent on the matter.
Yet, despite this apparent silencing of normalizing states, Israel was recently dealt a major blow to the inroads it had made in the region through the Accords. In May, Bahrain and Sudan – two of the states which established formal relations with Israel – voted at the United Nations Human Rights Council in favor of a resolution which will set the stage for a formal investigation into Israel’s “alleged violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law.”
Successive Israeli right-wing governments tried hard during the last two decades to make “the two-state solution” unattainable.
Inside Israel, successive Israeli right-wing governments tried hard during the last two decades to make “the two-state solution” unattainable through extending the colonies in the occupied territories, and isolating Hamas in the Gaza Strip by imposing a 15-year land, sea, and air blockade on the territory. These policies were pursued as repressive practices, denying basic human rights to the Palestinians, and dividing the Palestinian communities to prevent any united position against the occupation.
Yet, the recent violence has destroyed all of what Israel has planned and implemented over its 50 years of oppressive occupation. The recent events have made the Palestinians united in rejecting Israeli occupation, violent dispossession of lands, and living as third-class citizens in their own country. In fact, it is the first time in history that international opinion worldwide has largely condemned the Israeli apartheid.
Thus, Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, was right in saying “the world [has] turned upside down.” As for the Hamas, which has been labeled as terrorists by the US and Israel, the recent conflict provoked a rare Palestinian solidarity with the organization—not only in Gaza, but in Jerusalem, and most importantly, among Israeli Arabs.
Meanwhile, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was further marginalized in Ramallah, rendering the peace process, if any, irrelevant. Hence, the recent conflict will most likely influence greater clashes in the coming years, and in a manner not witnessed in the past.