JERUSALEM - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israelis and Palestinians to ease tensions on Monday during a visit to Jerusalem, reaffirming a long-stalled peace vision of two states side by side as the only path forward.
Arriving amid the bloodiest violence in years, Mr Blinken focused censure on a Palestinian gun spree outside a synagogue that put Israel on high alert but also cautioned against any celebration or avenging of such bloodshed.
Seven people were shot dead in Friday’s attack by an East Jerusalem man who was himself killed by police. Lionised by many fellow Palestinians, he had no known links to militant groups.
A day earlier, Israel carried out an unusually deep raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, killing 10 residents, most of them gunmen. At least 35 Palestinians, including fighters and civilians, have died in violence surging since Jan 1, medical officials say.
“It is the responsibility of everyone to take steps to calm tensions rather than inflame them,” Mr Blinken told reporters after landing in Tel Aviv.
Friday’s rampage, he said, “was more than an attack on individuals. It was also an attack on the universal act of practising one’s faith. We condemn it in the strongest terms.
“And we condemn all those who celebrate these and any other acts of terrorism that take innocent lives, no matter who the victim is or what they believe. Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Mr Blinken met later on Monday, has called for more citizens to carry guns as a precaution against such street attacks. But he has also warned Israelis not to resort to vigilante violence.
Mr Blinken was due to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.
Palestinian officials said Israeli settlers had set fire on Monday to two cars near the northern West Bank city of Nablus and thrown stones at a house near Ramallah, following a similar attack on Sunday.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Palestinian officials said Israeli troops killed a 26-year-old man at a checkpoint. The army said troops opened fire on the man’s car after he rammed into one of them and tried to flee an inspection.
The last round of US-sponsored talks on founding a Palestinian state alongside Israel stalled in 2014.
Mr Netanyahu’s new hardline government includes partners who oppose Palestinian statehood, and control over the Palestinian territories is divided between Mr Abbas, who favours diplomacy, and rival Hamas Islamists, who are sworn to Israel’s destruction.
After meeting Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Mr Blinken restated Washington’s belief that a two-state solution was the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“As I said to the prime minister, anything that would move us away from that vision is, in our judgment, detrimental to Israel’s longterm security and longterm identity as a Jewish and democratic state,” Mr Blinken said.
Recent data indicates that public support for a two-state solution has reached a historic low.
According to a survey published last week by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Research, 33 per cent of Palestinians and 34 per cent of Israeli Jews say they support it, a significant drop from data collected in 2020.
Two-thirds of Palestinians and 53 per cent of Israeli Jews said they opposed the two-state solution.
Mr Blinken also addressed local political tensions, noting that the “vibrancy of Israel’s civil society has been on full display of late,” a reference to large demonstrations against proposed changes in the judiciary that protesters see as undermining judicial independence.
Standing alongside Mr Netanyahu, Mr Blinken said a strength of the US and Israeli democracies was “a recognition that building consensus for new proposals is the most effective way to ensure they’re embraced and that they endure.” REUTERS