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Blinken arrives in Saudi Arabia to discuss Israel normalisation, post-war Gaza

2 min

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, the first stop in a broader trip to the Middle East to discuss issues including the governance of Gaza once the war with Israel ends.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah at the GCC Secretariat, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 29, 2024. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, the first stop in a broader trip to the Middle East to discuss issues including the governance of Gaza once the war with Israel ends.

The top U.S. diplomat heads to Israel later this week, where he is expected to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take the concrete and tangible steps U.S. President Joe Biden demanded this month to improve the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

In Riyadh, Blinken is expected to meet with senior Saudi leaders and hold a wider meeting with counterparts from five Arab states – Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan – to further the discussions on what governance of the Gaza Strip would look like after the war, according to a senior State Department official.

Blinken is also expected to bring together Arab countries with the European states and discuss how Europe can help the rebuilding effort of the tiny enclave, which has been reduced to a wasteland in the six-month long Israeli bombardment.

A group of European nations, including Norway, plan to recognise Palestinian statehood in conjunction with the presentation of an Arab state-backed peace plan to the United Nations.

“We can see by joining forces we can make this more meaningful. We really want to recognise the Palestinian state, but we know that is something you do once,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told Reuters on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh.

Blinkin's trip comes as Egypt was expected to host leaders of the Islamist group Hamas to discuss prospects for a ceasefire agreement with Israel.

Islamist fighters of the Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel retaliated by imposing a total siege on Gaza, then launching an air and ground assault that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, say health authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Conversations over Gaza's rebuilding and governance have been going on for months with a clear mechanism yet to emerge.

The United States agrees with Israel’s objective that Hamas needs to be eradicated and can no longer play a role in Gaza’s future but Washington does not want Israel to re-occupy the strip.

Instead, it has been looking at a structure that will include a reformed Palestinian Authority with support from Arab states.

Blinken will also discuss with Saudi authorities the efforts for a normalisation deal between the kingdom and Israel, a mega deal that includes Washington giving Riyadh agreements on bilateral defence and security commitments as well as nuclear cooperation.

In return for normalisation, Arab states and Washington push for Israel to agree to a pathway for Palestinian statehood, something Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected.

From Riyadh, Blinken will head to Jordan and Israel and the focus of the trip will shift to the efforts to improve the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

In Amman, Blinken will meet with senior Jordanian officials and humanitarian groups to hear about the improvements and what more needs to be done and then take that feedback to the Israelis later this week.

"(Blinken) will discuss the recent increase in humanitarian assistance being delivered to Gaza and underscore the importance of ensuring that increase is sustained," the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Sunday announcing the expansion of the trip.

Blinken’s trip to check-in on humanitarian aid comes about a month after Biden issued a stark warning to Netanyahu, saying Washington’s policy could shift if Israel fails to take steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers.

Senior U.S. officials in recent weeks have welcomed Israel’s steps to improve the humanitarian situation but repeatedly said more needs to be done.

In a phone call on Sunday with Netanyahu, Biden mentioned the Israeli preparations to open new border crossings this week into northern Gaza, where the famine risk remains high, according to a White House statement.

By Humeyra Pamuk

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