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Blinken in Ramallah. Photo: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty

A group of Palestinian American activists who met virtually last Friday with Secretary of State Tony Blinken urged him to take more action on human rights abuses by Israel against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, two people who attended the meeting told me.

Behind the scenes: Participants in the meeting, which was off the record, told Blinken they were concerned that the Biden administration was not applying its commitment to democratic values, human rights and international law when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Why it matters: This was a rare conversation between a U.S. secretary of state and members of the Palestinian American community and came in the aftermath of the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Blinken was asked whether the U.S. would be supporting an international investigation into human rights violations by Israel in Gaza or taking action to hold Israel accountable.

  • Several of the activists stressed that the U.S. should not provide Israel with $1 billion in additional military aid, as Israel has requested, but should instead further increase aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.
  • The activists raised several issues, including the situation in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, and discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.
  • Other messages shared by some of the attendees included that Hamas doesn't represent most Palestinians and should be held accountable too, and that the U.S. should back the long-delayed Palestinian elections.

What they're saying: “We are committed to rebuilding our relationship with the Palestinian people. Israelis & Palestinians deserve equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity," Blinken tweeted after the meeting.

  • “The administration planned not to touch this issue, but it was an illusion. Now Blinken has an opportunity to leave a mark," a person who attended the meeting told me.

What’s next: The two Palestinian American activists who attended the meeting told me it was a first step and they hope to continue the dialogue with the Biden administration.

Shortly after the meeting with Palestinian Americans, Blinken met with the leaders of several U.S. Jewish organizations and told them the administration would soon announce an envoy for fighting antisemitism, three people who attended the virtual meeting say.

Behind the scenes: Blinken told the group that the commitment to Israel’s security is personal to Biden and it endures regardless of the government in power in Israel, one attendee told me.

Blinken briefed the group on his trip to the region and said that after the latest conflict in Gaza, the U.S. was trying to bolster the Palestinian Authority and diminish Hamas, including by not allowing the militant group to benefit from the rebuilding process.

  • Blinken said the Biden administration supports a two-state solution but stressed it was clear-eyed about the prospects of that happening.
  • Blinken told the group the Biden administration is in talks with Israel on replenishing the Iron Dome system.

What they're saying: All of the participants in the meeting said they appreciated Biden’s handling of the latest crisis in Gaza, the three sources who attended tell me.

  • William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told Blinken the U.S. Jewish organizations were Biden’s “blocking backs” during the conflict.
  • Both Daroff and J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami told Blinken the administration needs to appoint an envoy to deal with the normalization process between Israel and the Arab world as well as the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
  • CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt and at least four other people on the call pressed Blinken to appoint an envoy for fighting antisemitism.

Go deeper

Sep 16, 2021 - World

Blinken, Austin call out China at event on Australia security pact

Blinken and Austin. Photo: Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin condemned China's "aggressive" and "destabilizing" behavior at a press conference Thursday, as they inaugurated a major new trilateral security partnership with Australia and the U.K.

Why it matters: China was not explicitly mentioned in President Biden's announcement of the AUKUS alliance, through which the U.S. and the U.K. will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a broader effort to ensure "peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific."

Biden enlists business leaders in campaign for vax mandates

President Joe Biden at a meeting with business leaders Sept. 15, 2021. Photo: Oliver Contretas/Getty Images

President Biden convened a meeting of top business leaders Wednesday to build support for a sweeping vaccine mandate that will affect most of America's workers. The message: Vaccines work, and the stalled uptake is holding back the economy.

Why it matters: As vaccine rates have flattened across the country, business leaders have the power to impact their employees’ decisions. Many corporate leaders had been looking for stronger federal guidance to lean on.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.