TEL AVIV (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Israel on Friday that it risks destroying an eventual possibility for peace unless it acts swiftly to improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza for Palestinian civilians as it intensifies its war against Hamas.
In a blunt call for Israel to pause military operations in the territory to allow for the immediate and increased delivery of assistance, Blinken said the current situation would drive Palestinians toward further radicalism and effectively end prospects for any eventual resumption of peace talks to end the conflict.
“There will be no partners for peace if they’re consumed by humanitarian catastrophe and alienated by any perceived indifference to their plight,” Blinken said.
The comments to reporters in Tel Aviv, following meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials, amounted to some of the Biden administration’s strongest warnings since the brutal Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers. But the remarks were also tempered by Blinken’s continued support for Israel’s “right and obligation to defend itself, defend its people and take the steps necessary to try to ensure that this never happens again.”
He described being moved by additional video he’d been shown in Israel of violent and deadly acts by the Hamas militants who carried out the attack.
“It is striking, and in some ways shocking, that the brutality of the slaughter has receded so quickly in the memories of so many, but not in Israel and not in America,” he said.
At the same time, he said he was also shaken by images of dead and wounded Palestinian children in Gaza.
“When I see that, I see my own children. How can we not?” he said, adding “Hamas doesn’t care one second or iota for the welfare and well-being of the Palestinian people.”
Blinken also said it was imperative for Israel, regional countries, the U.S. and others to begin considering what the future of Gaza will look like if and when Hamas is destroyed. “There cannot and must not be a return to the pre-October 7 status quo,” he said.
He said the idea of Hamas remaining responsible for the governance Gaza, thereby posing a continued threat to Israel, was “unacceptable.” But he also said that Israel could not re-occupy Gaza. He also reiterated that the U.S. would act to deter any other countries or groups, like Iran or Hezbollah, from joining the conflict.
“Within those parameters we will continue to have discussions in the region and our partners about what should follow once Hamas is defeated,” Blinken said.
But the complexity of the situation — and of Blinken’s push for Israel to consider a pause — was laid bare on Friday when Netanyahu, after leaving the meeting with the American official, ruled out the possibility of a cease-fire “that doesn’t include a return of our hostages,” referring to some 240 people Hamas abducted during its attack.
Tucker reported from Washington