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Blinken urges calm amid escalating Israel-Palestinian conflict


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Jerusalem today as violence continues between Israelis and Palestinians. Blinken's trip was long-planned to see the leaders of the new far-right government in Israel, and they had other issues on the agenda, like Iran. But the focus has shifted to what Blinken can do to prevent a deadly escalation in the long-running conflict right where he is.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Jerusalem and joins us now. Hi, Peter.


CHANG: Hi. OK. Can you just recap for us, like, what's been going on the last few days on the ground there?

KENYON: Sure. It's been a return to the kind of violence that has roiled Israel and the West Bank for a long time. An Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin went after armed Palestinian militants, left 10 people dead, including a middle-aged woman, and wounded others. That was followed by two deadly Palestinian attacks. First, a 21-year-old man shot and killed seven people outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem, and then a 13-year-old Palestinian boy wounded two more people. Israeli forces responded with measures they've used before, sealing off the home of the attackers' families, essentially evicting them overnight. The dwellings are often then demolished, sometimes leaving family members in refugee camps. Then today, a 26-year-old Palestinian from Hebron was shot and killed at an Israeli checkpoint. So the violence continues.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, I understand that Blinken spoke alongside the Israeli Prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. What message did Blinken bring about the violence there?

KENYON: Well, he covered a range of issues. For instance, Blinken made clear that Washington's support for the state of Israel remains as strong as ever. He also warned that Russia is providing Iran with what he called sophisticated weaponry, and he confirmed Washington's determination to keep backing Israel when it comes to security. He also called on Israel to provide all types of aid to Ukraine, which could refer to military aid Washington would like to see head there.

And about the violence here, Blinken was quite clear - the path forward, he said, for Israelis and Palestinians requires living together. He said that goal can be achieved if the Palestinians have their own state alongside a democratic Israel. Here's a bit of what he said.


ANTONY BLINKEN: We continue to believe that the best way to achieve it is through preserving and then realizing the vision of two states. As I said to the prime minister, anything that moves us away from that vision is, in our judgment, detrimental to Israel's long-term security and its long-term identity as a Jewish and democratic state. That's why we're urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate.

KENYON: And, of course, some Palestinians would say the problem is an extreme imbalance of power, and at the same time, Israelis look at the deaths in recent days and wonder when they will feel secure.

CHANG: And what response have we heard so far from Netanyahu on the U.S. position?

KENYON: Well, Netanyahu focused essentially on the long-standing ties between the two countries. He essentially avoided what some see as the big issue, the increasing violence. Now, Israel rejects, of course, any comparison between its police or military operations against militants versus Palestinian attacks that deliberately target civilians. But meanwhile, Netanyahu's right-wing government is carping - is complaining. The base is wondering why it hasn't lived up to its tough, hardline reputation and simply crushed the militants.

CHANG: Well, I know that Blinken plans to meet with Palestinian leaders tomorrow. Do you have a sense yet of what kind of case he'll be making with them?

KENYON: Well, I think the message will likely be much the same, urging de-escalation. Of course, there are things the Palestinians want, such as an independent Palestinian state. That vision has been chipped away - some might say almost consumed - by years of Jewish settlements being established and then expanded across territory Palestinians see as their longed-for state. One question now is, what is the way forward? Perhaps Blinken will have more to say about that after meeting with the Palestinian Authority leader.

CHANG: That is NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jerusalem. Thank you, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.