RAMALLAH, WEST BANK - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he will ask Congress for $75 million in assistance for Palestinians in Gaza following the recent cease-fire that brought an end to the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Blinken made the announcement after talks in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday.
“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.”
Blinken also reiterated Tuesday that 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."
The top U.S. diplomat said the U.S. would reopen its consulate in Jerusalem after the Trump administration closed it in 2019, provide $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance and more than $32 million for a United Nations emergency humanitarian relief campaign.
Blinken said the consulate’s reopening is “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 on Tuesday as part of an effort to build on a cease-fire.
Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken said both Israel and the Palestinians experienced “profound” losses during the fighting, and that there is 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,” said Blinken. “And as the Talmud teaches, to lose a life is to lose the whole world, whether that life is Palestinian or Israeli.”
The top U.S. diplomat 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 will 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.
Iran nuclear deal
Netanyahu also expressed his opposition to the prospect of the United States rejoining the international agreement that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The Israeli leader has long been a critic of the deal, reiterating Tuesday his belief that it “paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy.”
The United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018 under former President Donald Trump, who argued it gave Iran too much while not restraining its nuclear activity enough.
U.S. President Joe Biden was the country’s vice president when the agreement was brokered in 2015 between Iran and a group of world powers that also included Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. Those parties argued the deal was the best way to ensure Iran could not develop a nuclear weapon by requiring inspections of its nuclear facilities, limiting the amount of enriched uranium it could stockpile, restricting the level of enrichment and dismantling some of its nuclear infrastructure.
Stops in Egypt, Jordan
Blinken's Middle East trip will include a visit to Egypt, which mediated the Gaza truce between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian militants. He will meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
Egyptian mediators have been traveling across the Gaza border and met with Abbas in an effort to sustain the cease-fire.
Blinken will conclude his trip with a stop in Amman to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, the State Department said.
Hamas fired rockets from Gaza at Israeli cities on May 10 for what it said were rights abuses committed by Israel against Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Israel retaliated with targeted artillery and airstrikes on leaders of Hamas and the group’s infrastructure. The international community condemned Israel for blowing up high-rise buildings and striking refugee camps and other targets, which caused extensive civilian casualties, including women and children.