WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the expansion of Israeli settlements and ongoing demolitions of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank are taking Israel further away from peace with the Palestinians.
Yet, he stressed that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains “iron-clad,” lauded American security commitments to the Jewish state and said the Biden administration will continue to promote normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors, particularly with Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, he made clear the administration’s displeasure with actions that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government has taken in expanding Jewish settlements and increasing Palestinian home demolitions.
“Settlement expansion clearly presents an obstacle to the horizon of hope we seek,” Blinken said in a speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington.
“Likewise, any move toward annexation of the West Bank, de facto or de jure, disruption of the historic status quo at the holy sites, the continuing demolitions of homes and the evictions of families that have lived in their homes for generations damage prospects for two states,” he said.
Improving Israeli-Arab relations cannot replace a two-state solution with the Palestinians, he said.
“Integration and normalization efforts are not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinians, and they should not come at its expense,” Blinken said.
“Israel’s deepened relationships with its partners can and should advance the well-being of the Palestinian people and the prospects of a two-state solution,” he added.
Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia this week, in part to discuss prospects for the Saudis joining the so-called “Abraham Accords” that were completed during the Trump administration between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
“The United States has a real national security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We believe we can and must play an integral role in advancing it. We have no illusions this could be done quickly or easily but we remain committed to working toward this outcome.”
Blinken also reaffirmed the Biden administration’s determination not to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.