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Times Of Israel
Times Of Israel
17 Feb 2024

NextImg:Blinken: Israel has extraordinary opportunity, ‘virtually every Arab country’ wants ties

MUNICH, Germany – There is “an extraordinary opportunity” in the coming months for Israel to normalize ties with its Arab neighbors, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday, while also emphasizing the need for the creation of a Palestinian state.

The top US diplomat said there were genuine efforts led by Arab countries to revitalize the Palestinian Authority so it can be more effective in representing the Palestinians.

“Virtually every Arab country now genuinely wants to integrate Israel into the region to normalize relations… to provide security commitments and assurances so that Israel can feel more safe,” Blinken said during a panel discussion at the annual Munich Security Conference.

“And there’s also, I think, the imperative, that’s more urgent than ever, to proceed to a Palestinian state that also ensures the security of Israel,” he added.

The Biden administration has been working to secure a landmark deal that will see normalization in ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The kingdom and other Arab countries are seeking steps toward the creation of a Palestinian state as part of the deal.

Washington is also working to achieve a deal to secure the release of Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7, when the terror group crossed the border into Israel and mounted the deadliest attack on the country in its history. The massacre saw 1,200 people killed, mostly civilians, and 253 taken hostage.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via AP)

The hostage deal and the humanitarian pause are seen as instrumental in helping advance conversations on a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which had been frozen in the immediate aftermath of the attack, but have resumed in recent months.

Talks on the rule of Gaza when the war ends, and how the Palestinian Authority – which exercises limited self-rule in some areas of the West Bank – needs to be reformed to potentially rule the densely populated enclave, as well as identifying a pathway for a Palestinian state, are all variables in the same equation, according to US officials.

While some international actors believe the violence only underlines the need for a peace deal, Israeli leaders argue the attack highlighted the extreme danger of an autonomous Palestinian entity near its population centers. And amid soaring support for Hamas among Palestinians in the wake of the atrocities, there appears to be little appetite in the Israeli public for peace efforts.

Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have spoken publicly against creating a Palestinian state in the wake of the current war in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem, February 7, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In the wake of a Washington Post report that the US and Arab allies are preparing to present a plan that includes a firm timeline for a Palestinian state, Israel said that it was not the time to be discussing plans for the “day after” Hamas.

“Here in Israel, we are still in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre,” said Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Avi Hyman in a briefing. “Now is not the time to be speaking about gifts for the Palestinian people, at a time when the Palestinian Authority themselves have yet to even condemn the October 7 massacre.”

Following a recent phone call with US President Joe Biden on the topic, Netanyahu said that “Israel categorically rejects international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. Such an arrangement will be reached only through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions.”

The prime minister added: “Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7 massacre would give a huge reward to unprecedented terrorism and prevent any future peace settlement.”