Blinken warns Israel that evicting Palestinians from East Jerusalem could ‘spark tension, conflict, and war’

Blinken
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks during a joint press conference with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. Menahem Kahana/Associated Press
  • Blinken warned Israeli leaders that evicting Palestinians from East Jerusalem could spark war.
  • He told Axios that the recent Israel-Hamas cease-fire “was not an end in itself.”
  • Blinken also said providing opportunities for people in Gaza is key to preventing future violence.
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Axios that he warned Israeli leaders future evictions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem could exacerbate tensions and catalyze further conflict in the region.

“We raised the concerns that we have on all sides with actions that in the first instance could spark tension, conflict and war and also ultimately undermine even further the difficult prospects for two states,” Blinken said. “The cease-fire was not an end in itself, as important as it was, but also a means to have some space to start to build something a little bit more positive.”

The top US diplomat traveled to the Middle East this week to speak to leaders there as part of an effort to uphold a tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Blinken told Axios that during the trip he learned both sides want to maintain the cease-fire, but he emphasized the importance of avoiding “various actions that could unintentionally, or not, spark another round of violence.”

He said that during meetings with Israeli leaders he expressed concerns about “evictions of Palestinians from their homes where they lived for decades and generations, the demolitions of housing as well … and of course everything that took place on and around the Temple Mount,” or the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Al Aqsa
A member of Israeli police runs after a cameraman during clashes with Palestinians at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 10, 2021. Ammar Awad/Reuters

The recent fighting between Israel and Hamas was a product of an array of convoluted factors. Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and blockade on Gaza remain at the heart of the tensions. But the more immediate causes of the violence included the planned evictions of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and an Israeli police raid on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound – the third holiest site in Islam – amid Ramadan.

Democrats in Washington have said the cease-fire won’t be enough to prevent future conflict if the underlying causes aren’t addressed.

Blinken said that during meetings with Palestinian leaders he raised concerns regarding “incitement to violence or letting violence go forward with impunity,” in addition to “very problematic” payments to families of Palestinians convicted of terrorism, Axios reported.

But Blinken during the interview also said that one of the best ways to prevent future violence is to increase opportunities for Palestinians in Gaza. The Israeli blockade of Gaza has crippled the economy. The unemployment rate is above 50% and the economic costs of the blockade are estimated to be as high as $16.7 billion.

“There are very urgent needs for many people in Gaza that needs to be addressed,” Blinken said. “What Hamas feeds on is the lack of hope and lack of opportunity. So the best answer is to try and provide that and to make sure that the Palestinian authority has a role to play in delivering that hope and opportunity, as well as others including Israel, so I think it makes a profound strategic sense – never mind mind the importance on a human level.”

Blinken during his trip announced that the Biden administration was reopening a consulate in Jerusalem to handle Palestinian affairs. “If we’re not engaged with the Palestinians that undercuts our ability to advance things that I think would be everyone’s benefit, including Israel,” Blinken told Axios.

The secretary of state also announced that the US was giving an additional $110 million in economic assistance to Palestinians, including $5.5 million in emergency assistance for Gaza. Comparatively, the US gives Israel roughly $3.8 billion in military aid per year, while also selling it weapons.