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Sec. Blinken had a plan for his visit to Jerusalem. Then he had to pivot

Antony Blinken met with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.
Debbie Hill
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Antony Blinken met with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.

Welcome to a new NPR series where we spotlight the people making headlines — and the stories behind them.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to the Middle East has turned out to be about much more than he bargained for.

Who is he? A man caught in a moment.

  • Sec. Blinken is visiting Jerusalem for a trip that was originally intended to coordinate how the U.S. would work with newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Items on the agenda included strategy for how to deal with the nuclear situation in Iran; Israel's pursuit of a peace deal with Saudi Arabia; and proposed plans for a judicial overhaul that would weaken the current Israeli Supreme Court.
  • U.S. officials have expressed concern for how the newly installed far-right government will collaborate with them, as well as plans to legalize more settlements in the occupied West Bank.
  • Palestinians protest in the Al-Aqsa mosques compound in Jerusalem on January 27 after one of the deadliest Israeli army raids in the occupied West Bank in years.
    Ahmad Gharabli / AFP via Getty Images
    AFP via Getty Images
    Palestinians protest in the Al-Aqsa mosques compound in Jerusalem on January 27 after one of the deadliest Israeli army raids in the occupied West Bank in years.

    What's the big deal? It hasn't exactly played out as Blinken first planned. This past week in Jerusalem has been particularly violent, after Israeli forces carried out their deadliest raid in the West Bank in years, killing nine Palestinians, including gunmen and a 61-year-old woman. Dozens more were injured.

  • Then on Friday, Israeli police say a Palestinian gunman killed seven people and wounded three outside a synagogue in Jerusalem's Neve Yaakov neighborhood. The next day, Israeli police say a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and wounded two people in East Jerusalem.
  • It's the latest escalation in a cycle of violence that doesn't show signs of stopping soon, with members of Netanyahu's far-right cabinet aggressively supporting settlement efforts that many say are an obstacle to peace.
  • And, to top it off, U.S. officials say Israel appears to be responsible for a drone attack on a military factory in Iran over the weekend.
  • What has Blinken said? In a press conference with Netanyahu on Monday, Blinken called for peace, but didn't provide many specifics:

    "We're urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate. We want to make sure that there's an environment in which we can, I hope at some point, create conditions where we can start to restore a sense of security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, which of course is sorely lacking."

    He also affirmed the United States' commitment to maintaining a close relationship with Israel:

    "In the context of this attack and escalating violence, it's important that the government and people of Israel know America's commitment to their security remains ironclad. That commitment is backed up by nearly 75 years of U.S. support. America's commitment has never waivered, and never will."

    Blinken also re-affirmed the call for a two-state solution, an outcome that is not popular with many members of Netanyahu's cabinet.

  • Recent data published in Reutersfrom the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research shows that public support for a two-state solution is low. Only 33% of Palestinians and 34% of Israeli Jews expressed support for the proposed resolution — a stark drop from 2020 data.
  • So what now? Blinken is due to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday to continue discussions.

  • Israeli officials are already preparing for April, where Ramadan and Passover will overlap, and violent conflicts may bubble over again.
  • Learn more

  • For a more in-depth explainer, here's what is driving the latest spiral of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
  • For analysis from correspondent Daniel Estrin: Blinken's Israel visit comes during heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
  • For new developments, read about how Israel clears a hurdle for visa-free U.S. travel — but there are strings attached.
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.