WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Anthony Blinken pressed Benjamin Netanyahu on the future of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, expressing growing frustration with the Biden administration’s rejection of the Israeli prime minister’s offer last week.
“There’s a huge opportunity for regionalization in the Middle East, in the greater Middle East that we haven’t had before,” Blinken said during an interview at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland. “The challenge is making it happen.”
Asked whether Netanyahu took advantage of this opportunity to become prime minister, Blinken said, “These are the decisions the Israelis will make,” and added: “This is a turning point.”
Blinken’s comments in an interview with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman come just a week after he traveled to the Middle East to try to get Israeli and Arab leaders to agree on ways forward on Gaza after the end of the war with Hamas.
According to multiple senior administration officials, the disagreement between the Biden administration and Netanyahu over the handling of Israel’s war with Hamas, as well as the Israeli leader’s refusal to consider US post-war Gaza proposals, became more apparent after Blinken’s visit to Israel. .
Back in Washington, the secretary of state met all but one of the administration’s demands, officials said, except for an understanding that Israel would not attack Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Multiple senior administration officials said Blinken’s main achievement on the trip was securing a commitment from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and four other Arab leaders to help rebuild Gaza after the war. Arab leaders also agreed to support a new, reformed Palestinian government to secure Gaza, officials said. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has offered to normalize relations with Israel as part of a Gaza reconstruction deal – a diplomatic development long sought by Netanyahu – but only if the Israeli leader agrees to pave the way for Palestinian statehood, officials said.
Officials said Netanyahu rejected the offer, telling Blinken that he was not ready to negotiate a deal that would allow for the creation of a Palestinian state. Now, three senior US officials say the Biden administration has backed Netanyahu to achieve its goals in the region. Several senior US officials told NBC News that Netanyahu “will not be there forever.”
Blinken told Netanyahu that officials believe that ultimately there is no military solution to the Hamas issue and that the Israeli leader must recognize that or history will repeat itself and the violence will continue. But officials said Netanyahu was inactive.