US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, where the two leaders discussed post-war plans for Gaza, including steps towards the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The visit on Wednesday came as part of the US top diplomat’s fourth trip to the region since Israel’s war in Gaza started on October 7. After the meeting, Blinken made a surprise trip to Bahrain, while Abbas met neighbouring country leaders in Jordan.
Blinken’s arrival in Ramallah was met by a group of protesters who held up signs that read “Stop the genocide”, “Free Palestine” and “Blinken out”. Some scuffled with Palestinian security forces in riot gear.
Blinken discussed efforts to “minimise civilian harm” in Gaza and increase the delivery of aid inside the besieged enclave, according to a statement from the US Department of State, points he had made a day earlier during a visit to Israel.
He also expressed support for a Palestinian state and encouraged “administrative reforms” of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the State Department added. The PA said Abbas told Blinken that no Palestinians should be displaced from Gaza or the West Bank.
Hamas, meanwhile, rejected Blinken’s visit to the region. “The aim of the visit was to support the security of the occupation. There are no differences between Israel and the Americans,” Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told the Reuters news agency.
In a statement, Hamas also said the US official’s “attempts to justify the genocide committed by the Israeli occupation army against Palestinian civilians … are miserable attempts to wash the hands of the criminal occupation of the blood of children, women and the elderly of Gaza”.
In three months of war, more than 23,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in the Israeli bombardment. The war was launched after fighters from Hamas, the group that governs Gaza, attacked communities in southern Israel killing approximately 1,200 people there.
Since the start of the war, the US has repeatedly stated that the PA should govern Gaza once Israel has achieved its objective of eliminating Hamas.
The PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, lost control of the strip to Hamas in 2007. Its popularity across the Palestinian territories has been waning over the years.
After travelling to Bahrain later on Wednesday, Blinken said he discussed the role that regional powers will play in a post-conflict Gaza and efforts to bring countries in the region together. He added that this would happen in a way that “provides for the security of Israel and also provides a pathway to Palestinians for a state of their own”.
Blinken also said Abbas agreed “to move forward and engage in some of these efforts” and is prepared to “reform” the PA so it can take control of a united Gaza and occupied West Bank.
Blinken declined to characterise how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet responded to his appeal for a Palestinian state. He said Israel would have to make “hard decisions, hard choices” to take advantage of the opportunity offered by regional integration.
“Extremist settler violence carried out with impunity, settlement expansion, demolitions, evictions, all make it harder, not easier for Israel to achieve lasting peace and security,” he said at a news conference.
Since October 7, violence in the occupied West Bank has increased to levels unseen in nearly two decades. Since then at least 314 Palestinians, including 81 minors, have been killed, figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Later on Wednesday, Abbas was in Jordan to meet King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who stressed at the end of an Arab summit in Aqaba that pressure should be increased to end Israel’s “aggression” against Gaza and protect civilians there.
In a palace statement, both leaders rejected any Israeli plans to separate the fate of Hamas-controlled Gaza from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, adding the two entities were the basis of a future Palestinian state.
Blinken’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories comes after he toured Washington’s allies in the Middle East, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who he said want closer relations with Israel but only if that included a “practical pathway” to a Palestinian state.