CHICAGO: Leaders of several Arab-American organizations met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday to express concerns over the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians and demand that Israel’s government be held accountable for it.
More than 29 Palestinians have been killed in the past four weeks and scores have been seriously injured. Several Israeli Jews were killed on Friday, allegedly by a suspected Palestinian gunman.
Blinken is planning to travel to the Middle East on Sunday, Jan. 29, and then scheduled to meet Israeli leaders on Monday and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday. He is the second member of the Biden administration to visit the region in the past two weeks. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was there two weeks ago.
Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute — the AAI — one of the leaders attending the briefing with Blinken in Washington D.C., said that the group pressed the secretary to impose “consequences” on Israel’s government for the violent actions targeting Palestinian civilians.
“We were pleased for the opportunity to make our views known to the secretary but the emphasis was on the need for consequences,” Zogby told Arab News.
“Absence consequences for bad behavior, Israel operates with impunity and Palestinians lose hope. We offered specific suggestions on things they might do. Consequences are important. Israel should be made to pay for bad behavior.”
Zogby said that the group also pressed Blinken on the issue of the construction in Jerusalem of the US Embassy, noting that the land where the embassy is being built is owned by Palestinians, including Palestinian Americans.
In a statement the group said that Blinken’s planned trip was being “upstaged by the recent Israeli undercover military raid in Jenin that resulted in the killing of 10 Palestinians, including civilians.”
Members of the delegation expressed concern about US policy objectives and the situation in Palestine, not just in Jenin but also the mass displacement of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta in the West Bank.
“The group made it clear to the secretary that the US has a responsibility to act to restrain Israel’s aggressive behaviors toward the captive Palestinian people. Decades of US acquiescence to Israel’s policies of settlement expansion, land confiscation, home demolitions, and a range of other human rights violations have led to an Israeli sense of impunity and Palestinian despair,” the statement said.
“If the administration is to fulfill its commitment to the equal worth of Israelis and Palestinians and their rights to security, prosperity, and dignity, the group insisted that the secretary demonstrate firmness and resolve to rein in Israeli behavior.”
Other issues brought up during the meeting included Israel’s application for the US Visa Waiver Program. The program allows easy access for Israeli citizens to travel to the US but Arab leaders argued that Israel has made it extremely difficult for Arab-Americans to travel to Israel.
“Last year, Israel published military rules regarding its restrictions on visitors to the West Bank, which make clear that American citizens are discriminated against in entry to the West Bank if they indicate an intention to visit Palestinians. Those visiting Israelis face no similar restrictions,” the group said.
State Department Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf provided details of Blinken’s planned trip during a briefing late on Thursday.
“On January 29th to 30th, the secretary will go to Cairo, where he will meet with President El-Sisi, Foreign Minister Shoukry, as well as senior Egyptian officials. In those meetings, we expect that he will underscore our commitment to continuing to advance the strategic partnership we have with Egypt and to working with Egypt to promote peace and security in the region, whether it’s in support of elections in Libya or the ongoing Sudanese-led political process, or in working to ensure a calm in the Gaza Strip,” Leaf said.
“In Cairo, the secretary will also meet with Egyptian youth leaders and with Egyptian human rights defenders to underscore our commitment to human rights and our continued support for civil society and, of course, the enduring importance of people-to-people ties between our countries.”
Leaf said that Blinken will travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah from Jan. 30-31.
“In Jerusalem, he’s going to have an opportunity to meet up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, of course, the prime minister is just a month into his tenure as prime minister. He’ll also meet with the foreign minister and other senior Israeli leaders,” Leaf said.
“In those meetings, the secretary will highlight the special nature of the 75-year bilateral relationship with Israel and our unstinting commitment to Israel’s security and democracy. He will also underscore the United States commitment to countering the continued spectrum of threats posed by Iran to Israel, the US, and the wider region, and ensuring Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Other groups represented during the meeting along with the AAI were AMIDEAST, the Palestinian American Congress, the Arab Center of Washington D.C., and the Al-Bireh Society.