When Antony Blinken landed at Ben Gurion airport on Monday he said he had arrived at a „pivotal moment”.
By the end of his two-day visit, it is clear he had more than one moment in mind.
Israel and the occupied West Bank are currently gripped by a level of violence unmatched in years, which shows signs of slipping much further out of control.
But there are several „pivotal moments” converging and the Americans are worried. Their top diplomat might have been referring to any or all of them as he spoke on the tarmac with aviation fumes still blurring the air behind him.
It is a long list. First is the accelerating rate of bloodshed. Next comes the most radically nationalist governing coalition in Israel’s history, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who is on trial on corruption charges, which he denies).
The coalition is asserting „exclusive” Jewish rights to all the land (ie ending any idea of a future independent Palestinian state). It also proposes to change fundamentally the nature of Israel’s legal system (a full attack on Israeli democracy say those pouring on to the streets in protest).
Then there is a near complete collapse in control by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of the occupied West Bank (seeing waves of Israeli military raids and helping create a new generation of armed militants), an aging and unpopular PA leader (whom this year marks Year 18 of his four-year elected term in office), and his announcement last week to ditch so-called security coordination with the Israelis (a move that could lead to a complete security collapse in the West Bank).
Much of this has been years in the making. And after the US made a series of unprecedented announcements for the region under former President Donald Trump, the Biden administration has been winding many of them back. It is left able to prioritize only what it thinks is possible in the immediate term.
Forget any sudden talk of pursuing a two-state solution – the long-held international formula for peace. This is crisis management. Mr. Blinken kept using two phrases, „calling for calm” and „upholding our shared values”.
On the first point, the death toll is among the worst in years. In the last 10 months, there have been waves of lethal Israeli military search and arrest raids in the occupied West Bank, a deadly round of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, and a spate of deadly attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. More than 200 Palestinians and 30 Israelis were killed in 2022. In January alone this year, more than 30 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed.