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HomeGovernmentSecretary Antony J. Blinken With Jalal Chahda of Al Jazeera

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Jalal Chahda of Al Jazeera

QUESTION:  (In Arabic.)  Mr. Blinken, thank you for talking to Al Jazeera.  Hamas submitted a response to the proposal —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  — seeking some amendment.  How do you assess the response so far?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, just to step back for one second, 12 days ago President Biden laid out this proposal.  And in that time, almost the entire world came out in support of it, including the United Nations Security Council, but also the Arab League, virtually every country in this region, and well beyond.  Israel accepted the proposal, the Palestinian Authority accepted the proposal.  Hamas was the one answer we were waiting for.  And the answer that we got last night – that was submitted to Qatar, it was submitted to Egypt, and to us as the mediators of this process – unfortunately was not the yes that everyone else has provided.  It was looking for more changes to the agreement, including changes on items that Hamas had previously accepted.

So the hard reality is we could have a ceasefire.  We could have maybe had a ceasefire 12 days ago.  But we don’t in this moment because Hamas has not said yes.  We have, I think, some changes that Hamas is looking for that are workable, that we can try to close the gap on.  There are others that are not workable.  So we have to see in the days ahead whether we can actually close the gaps.  I think that the gaps are bridgeable, but just because they are doesn’t mean they will be.  Ultimately, Hamas has to decide.  Everyone else has decided; Hamas has not.

QUESTION:  What is not workable for you and for Israel?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I can’t get into the details.  You’ll understand that given the sensitivity of the negotiations, we’re not going to talk about the details.  But what I can say is this:  The proposal that President Biden laid out 12 days ago was virtually identical to one that Hamas had accepted and put forward itself on May the 6th.  So there’s no reason why this agreement should not be reached.  The only reason would be Hamas continuing to try to change the terms.

But here is what’s the reality.  The reality is as this negotiation is going on, during the 12 days that it took Hamas to respond, the world wasn’t standing still.  Gaza wasn’t standing still.  People were suffering every single day – Palestinian children, women, and men suffering every single day.  So from my perspective, from our perspective, it’s time to stop all of this haggling and back and forth, and start a ceasefire.

QUESTION:  Hamas said the priority is to stop the war.  What information did you receive from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during your meeting with him a few days ago in Israel concerning the permanent ceasefire in Gaza?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So what I can tell you from my conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu was a reaffirmation of Israel’s acceptance of the proposal that’s on the table.  And what does that proposal have in it?  It says first of all that there’ll be an immediate ceasefire – immediate.  And in that – during that immediate ceasefire, Israel will pull its forces back from populated areas in Gaza; it will surge more humanitarian assistance into Gaza; Palestinians living in Gaza will be able to return to their neighborhoods, their homes, if their homes are still intact, anywhere in Gaza; and during that initial phase – six weeks – both parties, Israel and Hamas, commit to negotiate toward a permanent ceasefire, with the understanding that the initial ceasefire will continue as long as those negotiations are going on.  And this is backed by the United States, it’s backed by Qatar, it’s backed by Egypt.

This is the quickest, most effective path to a durable ceasefire.  And that means an end to the war.  It also opens up so many other possibilities for where we want to go to try to get a truly durable peace for everyone in the region.  And one place that we believe it’s important to go is the realization of a Palestinian state.

QUESTION:  How do you plan to address the situation now?  What are the next steps?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So I’ve met over the last two days with Qatari and Egyptian counterparts.  We’ve been intensely engaged with all of our colleagues who’ve been working as mediators on this agreement.  We have to continue to analyze the document, and then see if over the coming days we can find a way to bridge the gaps that have emerged because Hamas wouldn’t say yes.

QUESTION:  What are the assurance that your administration can offer to both parties to – in order to proceed and finalizing the agreement?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think the assurances, first of all, are that the three countries that have been mediators – the United States, Qatar, and Egypt – stand fully behind it, and will stand behind it, and will make sure that both parties to the agreement make good on the commitments that are in the agreement.

Second, I think there’s another assurance here, which is the power of the fact that virtually the entire world stands behind this agreement.  It’s pretty rare these days to get the United Nations Security Council to speak with an almost unanimous voice – 14 votes in favor, not a single vote against, and the Russians abstained.  That, I think, speaks volumes to the fact that people all around the world want to see this war come to an end, they want to see this suffering come to an end, they want the hostages returned.  All of that is in the proposal that’s on the table.

QUESTION:  Meanwhile, the Israel operation to rescue four hostages in Nuseirat resulted in the death of more than 270 civilians, three hostages, one of them American – obviously, according to what the military spokesman of Qassam said.  Do you think that military operations will release and secure the hostages in Gaza?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first it’s – it is horrible that innocent children, women, and men lost their lives in the intense crossfire, the battle that took place when Israel was in the process of trying to rescue its hostages, just as it’s horrific that so many lives are being lost, so many lives are being ruined every single day in Gaza as a result of a war that Hamas started on October 7th.

Look, there shouldn’t have been any hostages to begin with.  Once the hostages were taken, Hamas could have released them every single day since they took them.  They didn’t.  Israel has a right to try to rescue its people.  I wish that innocents had not been lost in the process, but again, the quickest way to resolve this entirely, the fastest way to resolve it entirely so that the war comes to an end – all the hostages come home and we build a durable peace – is through this agreement, through this proposal.

QUESTION:  Was Washington involved prior to or during this Israeli operation to rescue four hostages in Nuseirat?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I can’t speak to any details, but of course we’ve tried to help the Israelis locate hostages.  If we had any information, of course we’d provide that.  We want to see them come home.  I think the most effective way to bring everyone home is through an agreement that not only brings them home, but gets an immediate ceasefire and leads to a permanent one.

QUESTION:  Efforts are being made from your side to reopen Rafah crossing.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  Have any agreements been made with Israel to reopen, to manage the crossing, to prevent a severe famine in Gaza, especially in the north?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah, we’re working on that every single day.  We want to see Rafah reopened just as we want to make sure not only that more humanitarian assistance is getting to Gaza but that once it’s in Gaza, it’s getting effectively distributed to people who desperately need it.  We were at a conference yesterday in Jordan that brought the entire region – and actually many countries from around the world together – to do more for the Palestinians who were desperately in need.  The United States pledged another $400 million.  We are by far the single largest country contributor to Palestinians – any country on earth.  And we’ve now since the start of the war in Gaza contributed nearly $700 million and $2.2 billion during the course of this administration.

But it’s imperative that not only are the resources there, but that there are ways to get it into Gaza, and once it’s in Gaza, move it around to people who need it.  We’ve had progress in recent weeks in the north, where the Israelis opened crossings and more is getting in.  There’s a route from Jordan that goes directly so that trucks can move from Jordan through Israel to the crossings.  Many goods are coming in through Ashdod Port.  But just as that was happening, the situation reversed in the south with the closure of Rafah as a result of the operations around Rafah.

So yes, we want to get that open as quickly as possible.  I can tell you we’re working really around the clock with the Egyptians, with the Israelis to find a way to get an agreement to reopen it.

QUESTION:  Mr. Blinken, after visiting Israel lately where you met with Minister Gantz —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  — how do you assess the current internal situation in Israel following the resignation of Gantz and Eisenkot from the (inaudible)?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, it’s really not for me to comment on Israeli politics.  These are decisions for the Israelis to make.  It’d be the decisions for the individuals to make about their participation or not in the government, decisions for the Israeli people to make about their government.  Minister Gantz is someone I have great respect for.  We’ve worked closely together, and so – and he leads a major party, so of course he’s someone that I’m going to talk to, just as I’ll see people in the government, the opposition leader, Yair Lapid.  It’s important for us to be talking to everyone so that we have the clearest possible reflection of what people’s views are throughout Israel and across Israeli society .

QUESTION:  Your government, your administration, bluntly rejected any occupation of Gaza after war.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s correct.

QUESTION:  How do you envision the future in Gaza?  Who’s going to be in charge on what you call the next day here?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So this is – this is critical because in order for this war to end, we also have to be ready for that and ready for what comes next, for what happens on the day after.  How do we look at governance?  How do we look at security?  How do we look at the reconstruction, which is going to be a massive undertaking?  Over these last four or five months, I’ve been consulting intensely with partners in the Arab world, with the Palestinian Authority, including just over the last two days, precisely on these questions, the day-after plans.

And without going into any details now, we’re at a point – and I mentioned this earlier today – where we are going to be putting forward ideas, concrete ideas, for what we believe should happen, how we help organize things so that there can be a day after that actually deals with all the challenges that Gaza will face, that Palestinians will face, even once the conflict ends.

QUESTION:  Last question, Mr. Blinken, about the West Bank.  Settlers’ violence increases in West Bank, especially after October the 7th.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  How do you assess that, the situation?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’ve been deeply concerned about this.  And as you know, we have taken steps to sanction extremist settlers who’ve engaged in acts of violence or intimidation.  And we’ll, as necessary, continue to do that, but we have real concerns about that.  And beyond that, I think life in the West Bank, already challenging and difficult, has gotten even more difficult as people are not able to go to – go to jobs that they’ve had as movement is more restricted and as we see pressure being exerted from the extremist settlers.  So this is something that not only is of deep concern to us, but it’s also something we’ve taken action on.

Beyond all of that, look, we are working every day to bring this war to an end, to bring the suffering of people to an end, to bring the hostages home, to put us – to put everyone – on the path to a more durable peace, more durable security.  And a big part of that is getting this agreement.  I think that’s the most critical step.  But there’s something else that’s so critical in this moment and it’s so hard.

What I’ve seen over these last eight months – and of course it predates the eight months, but it’s been intensifying – is something I’ve talked about before, but it’s this poison of dehumanization, the inability of all sides to see the humanity in the other.  And when that happens, when hearts harden, it becomes very, very hard to do the good things, and it becomes very easy to justify the bad things.

So one of the things that we have to do – we have to find a way to do – is to remember the humanity in each other because that’s what it’s all about.  When I see children, little boys, little girls, lose their parents in Gaza and are on their own, that hits me as hard as a little boy or little girl who lost his or her parents on October 7th.  There’s no hierarchy of suffering.  It’s all about real human beings.

And that’s the thing we have to have in our minds every single day as we work to bring this to an end, but not only bring it to an end, get to a better place, a place where Israelis and Palestinians can actually live side by side in peace and security.  I am convinced – I am convinced – that that’s not only possible, it’s absolutely necessary.  But the first step, the first step, is getting the ceasefire, getting this war in Gaza to end, and building from there.

QUESTION:  U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken, thank you for talking to Al Jazeera.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-jalal-chahda-of-al-jazeera/

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