U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken engaged in a series of previously unannounced visits to the West Bank, Iraq, and Turkey on Sunday, amidst the widening war between Israel and Hamas.
The diplomatic endeavor was paralleled by a tour from CIA Director William Burns, an experienced Middle East strategist, who met with Arab leaders to deliberate over intelligence collaborations.
The Biden administration's diplomatic and intelligence surge coincided with a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes continue unabated, hitting locations including civilian-dense locations resulting in multiple casualties, the New York Post reported.
In the West Bank, Blinken's meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was reportedly strained, centring on Abbas' urgent call for a ceasefire and increased humanitarian assistance for Gaza. Abbas articulated a desire for the U.S. to assume a more impartial mediating role, a sentiment echoed by Dr. Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, in his remarks to CBS.
“We need to see the U.S. playing the role of an honest mediator, not adopting the Israeli narrative,” said the former Palestinian Authority rep to the United States. “We needed a grownup in the room, and that is the U.S. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard that.”
The U.S., while advocating for a “humanitarian pause,” has so far refrained from endorsing a complete ceasefire, arguing that it would afford Hamas the opportunity to consolidate its position.
Blinken's advocacy was met with resistance from Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissing the notion of even a temporary halt in operations, emphasizing the release of hostages by Hamas as a precondition for any ceasefire.
Concurrently, Blinken's impromptu visit to Iraq entailed discussions with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and a briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. His journey continued to Turkey, where tensions with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the Gaza strikes were likely a topic of conversation.
In Israel, Burns met with intelligence officials to assess threats following confrontations with Hamas, as reported by the New York Times. His tour is expected to include Jordan, whose leader King Abdullah II has been a vocal advocate for an immediate ceasefire.
The situation in Gaza has prompted the evacuation of over 300 American citizens from Gaza, with concerns for those remaining in the conflict zone.
Blinken urged Abbas to assert a central role in Gaza's future governance, hinting at the need for an “effective and revitalized Palestinian Authority." While the U.S. affirms its commitment to Palestinian self-determination and statehood, the efficacy and acceptability of the Palestinian Authority as Gaza's administrator remain uncertain amidst criticism of its governance.
In a broader context, calls for a ceasefire have been amplified by Arab leaders and Pope Francis, given the severe toll of the conflict, with the Hamas-run health ministry reporting thousands of Palestinian casualties.