U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday ended his Middle East tour to bolster the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip by praising Jordan’s King Abdullah’s “crucial” leadership in helping to secure the truce.
“Jordan’s recent contributions to help bring an end to the conflict in Israel demonstrate the kingdom's enduring role as a force for peace in the region, which is one of the reasons our relationship is so strong and so vital,” Blinken told reporters after meeting with King Abdullah in Amman.
Regarding recovery efforts in hard-hit Gaza, Blinken said, “The most urgent thing is humanitarian assistance for the people in Gaza, and particularly water, sanitation, electricity. We all have to come together to answer those immediate needs. Beyond that, reconstruction, rebuilding.”
Blinken arrived in Jordan, where half the population of 10 million are of Palestinian origin, after meeting earlier in the day in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
Egypt was heavily involved in achieving the cease-fire in the recent conflict.
During his meetings in Egypt, Blinken said he spoke with el-Sissi about the release of Americans who have been detained in Egypt.
Accent on human rights
"I certainly raised this in, in my meeting today, and will continue to do so until Americans are reunited with their families,” Blinken said. “More broadly, I think you know that President Biden takes the issue of human rights and our commitment to human rights very seriously. Indeed, he's asked us to put it at the heart of our foreign policy.”
Blinken began Wednesday by meeting with Israeli President Reuben Rivlin, closing the first leg of his first trip to the Middle East since becoming the top U.S. diplomat.
“The Secretary and President Rivlin discussed ways to promote coexistence and tolerance among all citizens of Israel regardless of heritage or background,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. “They reaffirmed the importance of the steadfast U.S.-Israel partnership and the need to promote peace and stability for all.”
Price also said Blinken invited Rivlin to visit the United States in the coming weeks.
After talks Tuesday in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Blinken said he would ask the U.S. Congress for $75 million in assistance for Palestinians in Gaza.
"We know that the last round of violence is symptomatic of a larger set of issues that we have to address if we're going to prevent its recurrence, and that's what we talked about today," Blinken said. "We welcome the cease-fire that continues to hold, but that's not enough. We have to build on the cease-fire and try to move things in a genuinely positive direction."
Two-state solution seen vital
Blinken also reiterated Tuesday the Biden administration's belief that a two-state solution "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 that they're entitled to."
He said the United States would reopen its consulate in Jerusalem, which the Trump administration closed in 2019, and provide $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance and more than $32 million for a U.N. emergency humanitarian relief campaign.
Blinken said the consulate's reopening was "an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people."
Of the U.S.-designated terror group that controls Gaza, Blinken said, "We will work to ensure that Hamas doesn't benefit from these reconstruction efforts."
Earlier in the day, the secretary of state underscored Israel's right to defend itself as he visited Jerusalem as part of an effort to build on the cease-fire.
Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken said that both Israel and the Palestinians had experienced "profound" losses during the fighting, and that there was a lot of work ahead to restore hope, respect and trust.
"Casualties are often reduced to numbers, but behind every number is an individual human being — a daughter, a son, a father, a mother, a grandparent, a best friend," Blinken said. "And as the Talmud teaches, to lose a life is to lose the whole world, whether that life is Palestinian or Israeli."
Blinken also pledged help to expand economic opportunities for Palestinians both in Gaza and in the West Bank, saying that doing so would provide for a more stable environment that would benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.
Netanyahu thanked the United States for its show of support, while warning the militants to maintain the cease-fire.
"If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful," he said.