Feb 7, 2023 - World

Scoop: U.S. asked Israel and PA to "pause" certain actions in West Bank and at UN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken while in the Middle East last week asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a temporary “pause” in certain actions each side opposes, including Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and Palestinian moves at the UN, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is looking for ways to de-escalate the situation in the West Bank and prevent it from deteriorating into a third intifada. This includes a package of steps the U.S. hopes both Israel and the Palestinian Authority could take and others they would refrain from taking in order to lower tensions.

Behind the scenes: The U.S. wants the "pause” to last several months, and include an Israeli commitment to postpone settlement activity, the demolitions of Palestinian homes and evictions of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the officials said.

  • The U.S. wants the Palestinian Authority to resume security coordination with Israel, which was suspended last month, and postpone taking any further steps against Israel at UN institutions and other international bodies.
  • Israeli officials told the Biden administration they are willing to take steps to significantly reduce the activities the U.S. opposes, but stressed they won’t be able to halt them completely. Palestinian officials said they are willing to enter such a “pause” if it will be mutual, the U.S. and Israeli officials said. Abbas' office did not respond to Axios' request for comment.
  • Barbara Leaf, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, met separately with Netanyahu’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Abbas’ senior adviser Hussein al-Sheikh last week to follow up on Blinken's request, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials.
  • The Biden administration is still speaking to both sides in an attempt to secure understandings on the issue, the officials said. The U.S. State Department and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.

State of play: On Monday, the Israeli government ordered the postponement of the demolition of a building in East Jerusalem that houses 100 Palestinian families.

  • Western diplomats said several embassies, including the U.S., U.K. and France, raised concerns with the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office in recent days about the planned demolition.
  • During his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday, Netanyahu said he would not suspend all settlement activity in the West Bank, but it would be "much less" than what his far-right coalition partners want.
  • Last week, the Israeli government asked the Supreme Court to postpone a decision on the planned demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank by another six months “due to diplomatic sensitivities."
  • Haaretz reported on Monday that Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told settler leaders in a closed meeting last week they must make sure no new illegal outposts are built in the coming weeks and months.

The big picture: Early Monday, at least five Palestinians were killed in an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jericho. The Israeli military said those killed were armed members of Hamas who conducted shooting attacks against Israeli settlements and were hiding in a safe house.

  • The Palestinian Presidency called the raid “a new crime” by the Israeli government that undermines the international efforts to de-escalate the situation. Hamas acknowledged those killed were members of its military wing and threatened to retaliate.
  • Netanyahu said in a statement that the IDF had to conduct the raid because Palestinian security forces didn’t do it themselves.

What to watch: A U.S. official said the Biden administration hopes it can reach understandings on some kind of a “pause,” but warned the current situation is so fragile that it will be very hard to achieve and sustain.

Go deeper: Blinken pressed Abbas to accept U.S. security plan for Jenin

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