Blinken says Gaza must not be reoccupied and must be run by Palestinians

TOKYO — Israel and its allies need to start “setting the conditions for lasting peace” in Gaza now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, offering the fullest vision yet from the Biden administration on how to ensure the stability and security of the territory after the current bloody conflict.

As Israeli troops press their offensive against Gaza City, Blinken said diplomatic efforts must begin immediately to set the stage for a stable peace afterward. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticized for not offering a clear plan for what will happen in Gaza if Israel succeeds in its goal of ousting Hamas, which has ruled the area since 2007.

A month into the devastating Gaza war, Israel’s end game is no clearer

Netanyahu’s statement earlier this week that Israel could assume responsibility for Gaza’s security “for an indefinite period” raised red flags for the Biden administration, whose position is that Israel must avoid any suggestion of an open occupation of Gaza, US officials said. on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions.

“We’ve seen what happens when we don’t have” security responsibility for Gaza, Netanyahu said in an interview with ABC News.

US officials seem increasingly nervous about Israel’s plans for a post-conflict Gaza, and Blinken says the administration also wants to ensure other forms of protection for Gazans.

“The only way to ensure that this crisis never happens again is to start setting the conditions for lasting peace and security and to frame our diplomatic efforts now with that in mind,” Blinken told reporters in Tokyo after a meeting with European, Canadian and Japanese. foreign ministers and extend a call for “humanitarian pauses” in the Israeli assault on Gaza.

“The United States believes that key elements should not include any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. Not now, not after the war,” Blinken added. “No use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism or other violent attacks. No reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends. No attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza. No reduction of Gaza territory.”

The outline of a post-conflict vision by the top US diplomat came amid growing concerns over Netanyahu’s handling of the situation, with US officials worried that the Israeli leader is sending mixed signals about his commitment to a reconstructed Gaza administered by Palestinians.

Some of Blinken’s warnings were also a public pushback against private ideas raised by Israelis, US officials said, including that Israeli security could be ensured by a “buffer zone” between Gaza and Israel, potentially carved out of Gaza territory.

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In the early days of the conflict, Israel also raised the idea of ​​Gaza residents leaving the territory en masse for Egypt while the conflict against Hamas lasted, officials said. That idea was rejected by Arab states and the Biden administration because of sensitivities that Israel might not allow the displaced residents to return, the officials said, adding that it was no longer a topic of discussion by the Israelis.

It is just the latest tension between the Israeli government and its biggest military backer, Washington, during the month-long assault on Gaza following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

“Gaza cannot continue to be run by Hamas,” Blinken said. “It is also clear that Israel cannot occupy Gaza. Now the reality is that a transition period may be needed at the end of the conflict, but it is imperative that the Palestinian people are central to the governance of Gaza and the West Bank.” He added that Israeli leaders have told him “that they have no intention of reoccupying Gaza.”

Blinken said the work for peace must begin now.

“We must also work on the affirmative elements to achieve lasting peace. This must include the voices and aspirations of the Palestinian people at the center of the post-crisis government in Gaza. It must include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza united with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “And that must include a sustainable mechanism for reconstruction in Gaza and a path to Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in their own space with equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity.”

Israeli officials appear to have backed away from Netanyahu’s “indeterminate” comments, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant saying “it won’t be Hamas and it won’t be Israel” when asked who would ultimately control Gaza after the war. “Anything else is possible,” he added.

Meeting in Tokyo, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major world economies endorsed the US call for “humanitarian pauses” as international concern grows over the plight of civilians in Gaza as Israel’s offensive gathers pace.

“We support humanitarian pauses and corridors to facilitate urgently needed assistance, civilian movement and the release of hostages,” the foreign ministers of the group said in a joint statement adopted on Wednesday. The G-7 includes the United States, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, France, Canada and Italy.

“We emphasize the importance of protecting civilians and compliance with international law, especially international humanitarian law,” the statement said, while also expressing understanding for Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

Netanyahu has resisted pressure to take a break from his country’s efforts to target Hamas, although he has signaled increasing openness to “tactical” breaks, which US officials see as a positive move.

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Some European countries have echoed Arab leaders’ calls for a ceasefire, meaning a more permanent halt to the fighting than a “pause”, although the Europeans has been divided because some leaders there share President Biden’s view that Israel needs to dismantle Hamas as a security threat and continue to press its offensive.

Those divisions were on display at the foreign ministers’ meeting, where the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, sparred with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who has defended Israel’s goal of crushing Hamas, according to officials familiar with the talks.

Blinken traveled to Japan after touring the Middle East and speaking with regional leaders about the conflict. It was a visit without immediate victories, as he faced an Israeli refusal to stop its fighting and anger from Arab countries that the Biden administration continued to support Israel despite the rising civilian death toll, which this week exceeded 10,000 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Aiming at Arab leaders and other advocates of an immediate and complete cessation of hostilities, Blinken said after the meeting that those calling for a ceasefire now “have an obligation to explain how to deal with the unacceptable outcome that would likely lead to to “Hamas left in place, with more than 200 hostages, with the capacity and stated intent to repeat October 7 again and again and again.”

The Israel-Gaza War

Israeli forces advanced deeper into the territory and closed in on Gaza City – a move that US officials said was likely to lead to increased casualties. As the war drags on for a month of fighting, Israel’s endgame for Gaza is no clearer. Understand what is behind the Israel-Gaza war.

hostages: Israeli officials say Hamas militants abducted around 240 hostages in a highly organized attack. Four hostages have been released – two Americans and two Israelis – as families cling to hope. A freed Israeli hostage told of the “spider web” of Gaza tunnels she was held in.

Humanitarian aid: The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said it has received over 300 trucks of food, medicine and water for the Gaza Strip through Egypt’s Rafah crossing. But, the PRCS said, permission has not yet been granted to bring in fuel that powers the enclave’s hospitals, water pumps, taxis and more.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has a complicated history, and its rulers have long been at odds with the Palestinian Authority, the US-backed government of West Bank. Here is a timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.