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

US's Blinken arrives in Saudi Arabia to discuss Israel normalisation, post-war Gaza
5 min read
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Saudi Arabia on the first stop in a broader Middle East trip. He will also visit Jordan and Israel.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Saudi Arabia [EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/AFP/Getty]

US 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 Israel's war on the strip ends.

The top US 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 US 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.

Hamas in Egypt

Blinken's trip comes as a Hamas delegation was due Monday in Egypt, where it will respond to Israel's latest proposal for a long-sought truce in Gaza and hostage release after almost seven months of war.

A senior Hamas official said on Sunday that the Palestinian group had no "major issues" with the most recent truce plan.

"The atmosphere is positive unless there are new Israeli obstacles," the official told AFP, requesting anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

A source with knowledge of the talks told AFP that Qatari mediators were also taking part in the negotiations in Cairo.

The New Arab's Arabic-language edition Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported that Hamas's delegation would discuss some points mentioned in the Israeli reply to an earlier Hamas document before the Palestinian group presents its final response to the latest Israeli position.

Hamas sources said the group's leadership "wishes to clarify" some phrases in the Israeli reply that "express intentions or readiness to respond to the conditions the resistance set out for accepting the new truce proposal", such as withdrawing from the Netzarim axis that splits the Gaza Strip into two parts, a complete exit from the enclave, and a permanent ceasefire.

The sources said these conditions were mentioned in the Israeli reply prefixed by language of readiness or willingness, "without there being a clear commitment through mechanisms", which is what the Hamas delegation wants to determine before giving a response.

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Israel's war on Gaza has so far killed at least 34,454 people, according to the strip's health ministry.

A Hamas-led attack on Israel on 7 October killed 1,200 people and saw 253 hostages seized, according to Israeli tallies.

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 alleged 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.

Normalisation with Israel is controversial across the Arab world, and Palestinians view it as a betrayal of their national cause.

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 US 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 US 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.

(Reuters, The New Arab, AFP)