US vows to reopen Jerusalem consulate, pledges aid for Gaza
Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed on Tuesday to rebuild US relations with Palestinians by reopening a consulate in Jerusalem, as well as giving millions in aid to help the war-ravaged Gaza Strip.
The announcements signalled a clean break with US policy under former president Donald Trump, who had shuttered the diplomatic mission for Palestinians in 2019 and slashed aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Long term, Blinken evoked the "possibility of resuming the effort to achieve a two-state solution, which we continue to believe is the only way to truly assure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of course to give the Palestinians the state they're entitled to".
Blinken's visit, part of a wider Middle East tour, comes after Friday's truce ended 11 days of heavy Israeli bombing of Gaza, as tensions simmer in annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
"The United States will be moving forward with the process of reopening our consulate in Jerusalem," Blinken said after meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, later adding there was no timeline yet for that.
The top diplomat of US President Joe Biden reiterated support for Israel's right "defend itself" against rocket attacks by Hamas, which he said must not benefit from the aid effort to rebuild Gaza.
But Blinken also stressed Washington's commitment to rebuilding relations with the Palestinians with a "shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, freedom opportunity and dignity".
Millions in aid
Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded over 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict from May 10, the health ministry in Gaza says.
Blinken said he would notify Congress of the intention to provide $75 million in aid to the Palestinians, on top of $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance for Gaza, and about $32 million for an emergency humanitarian appeal by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
"Reconstruction and then relief for the people of Gaza, far from empowering Hamas, I think has the potential to undermine it," he said.
He said this was because Hamas - which Washington considers to be a terrorist group - thrives "on desperation, on a lack of opportunity".
If material improvement in people's lives in Gaza was achieved, with the help of all sides including Israel and the Palestinian Authority, "then Hamas' foothold in Gaza will slip", he said.
'Lots of hard work'
Abbas said earlier in the day his administration was ready to "work directly to help with the reconstruction of Gaza".
Israel's latest bombing campaign on Gaza began after Israeli forces attacked Palestinian worshipers in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site.
Israeli forces also sought to quell protests against the forced eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to make way for illegal Jewish settlers.
"There's lots of hard work ahead to restore hope, respect and some trust across the communities," Blinken said.
The recent violent escalation has sparked unrest across Israel, sparking violence between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, as well as clashes in the occupied West Bank.
Peace talks have stalled since 2014, including over the status of east Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Blinken said on Tuesday the United States opposed any settlement activity, demolitions, evictions, incitement to violence, and payment to "terrorists" as they could all spark renewed tensions and "undermine the prospect of returning to two states".