Blinken: Gaza cease-fire still possible, but ICC move complicates efforts  

state department — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas militants in return for the release of hostages remains possible, but the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrants for Israeli leaders hindered ongoing efforts.  

“There’s been an extensive effort made in recent months to get that agreement. I think we came very, very close on a couple of occasions. Qatar, Egypt, others participating in the efforts to do this — we remain at it every single day. I think that there’s still a possibility,” Blinken told lawmakers during a hearing at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.    

But Blinken said the “extremely wrongheaded decision” by the ICC prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister, defense minister and three Hamas leaders in Gaza for war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the Israel-Hamas war complicated the prospects of reaching such a deal.    

On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the ICC prosecutor’s decision to equate Hamas terror attacks and civilian abductions in southern Israel with Israel’s military practices in Gaza, calling the ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants “outrageous.”  

Blinken said he will be happy to work with the Congress “on an appropriate response.”    

Some lawmakers are considering legislation to sanction ICC officials for prosecuting U.S. citizens or allies, including Israel.  

The top U.S. diplomat began two days of congressional testimonies, which were immediately interrupted by protesters holding signs that read “war criminal.” They were escorted out of the hearing room by Capitol Police.  

Military operation in Rafah   

In the nearly three-hour hearing, Blinken also said the Biden administration remains “very concerned” about a major military operation by Israel in Rafah.  

The U.S. has opposed a full-scale military assault by Israel in Rafah, situated in the southern part of Gaza. Such an operation would endanger the lives of 1.3 million civilians who evacuated from the northern and central areas of the territory to seek safety from Israel’s military response to Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.  

Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians and wounded nearly 80,000, most of them civilians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The offensive was launched following a Hamas terror attack into Israel that killed 1,200 people.  

US-Saudi defense pact     

U.S. officials said the United States and Saudi Arabia are nearing a final agreement on a bilateral defense pact.   

Once complete, it will be part of a broader deal presented to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who must decide whether to make concessions to his opposition regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state to secure normalization with Saudi Arabia.  

On Tuesday, Blinken admitted that Israel might be reluctant to accept a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia if it requires them to agree to a Palestinian state.    

In his testimony before the U.S. Congress, Blinken told Democratic Senator Chris Murphy “the overall package could not go forward, absent other things that have to happen for normalization to proceed.”

“And in particular,” he said, “the Saudis have been very clear that would require calm in Gaza. And it would require a credible pathway to a Palestinian state. And it may well be, as you said, that in this moment, Israel is not able or willing to proceed down that pathway.”    

Blinken added that Israel must “decide whether it wants to proceed and take advantage of the opportunity” to achieve something that it has sought since its founding: normal relations with the countries in the region.  

Netanyahu has rejected the two-state solution and the return of the Palestinian Authority controlling Gaza, demands that are widely supported by the international community.  

The Saudis have demanded, as a prerequisite to normalizing ties with Israel, to see an Israeli commitment to the two-state solution. 

your ad here

leave a reply: