Fri. Jul 12th, 2024
Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to Press

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good evening, everyone.  Since October 7th and the conflict between Israel and Hamas, we’ve put a focus on trying to make sure that those so desperately in need in Gaza get the humanitarian assistance they require.  And this has been part of our work every single day.  It’s also been the focus of every single one of my trips to the region. 

The United States remains the largest provider of humanitarian assistance and assistance in general to the Palestinian people, but we’re determined that people get the assistance that they need.  And we’re doing that in parallel with seeking to secure the ceasefire and the release of hostages.  That’s also the best way to create an environment in which we can maximize assistance getting in, ease the suffering of people, and also to create the conditions for an enduring, lasting peace.

In their recent conversations, including on April 4th, President Biden has made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli Government the imperative of taking concrete, measurable steps to improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those who need it as well as to protect civilians and those who are delivering the assistance to people in need.

Here today in Jordan, I had an opportunity to meet with Gazan women who were able to get out of Gaza and are now here in Jordan.  I heard their stories.  I heard the suffering that they endured and that their friends and family continue to endure every day.  I also met with the king, King Abdullah, as well as Foreign Minister Safadi, and among other things we focused on the coordination of providing assistance to Gazans and the critical role that Jordan is playing in doing that.

And I also had an opportunity to meet with the senior UN envoy Sigrid Kaag and an entire team of humanitarians from different agencies that are working and coordinating their efforts every single day, and especially to hear from them the progress that’s been made but also the work that remains to be done.  And that’s vitally important.

With me on this trip is our new envoy for humanitarian affairs in the Middle East, Lise Grande, someone who is deeply experienced, most recently running the U.S. Institute for Peace but before that a long career doing humanitarian development work, including at the United Nations.  She’s taking the baton from Ambassador Satterfield.  You’ll remember that President Biden appointed him one week after October 7th.  He’s done extraordinary work to try to improve conditions for Gazans and create a better flow of humanitarian assistance.  But we’re delighted that Lise has taken on this effort and carrying the baton forward.  The President, myself, have tremendous confidence in her abilities to take this on.

What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is clear and demonstrable progress in getting more assistance into Gaza and getting more of it around within Gaza.   And in particular, we’ve seen the opening of new crossings, including Erez, which was hugely important.  We see now the use of Ashdod and the port to flow things into – from Israel and then into Gaza.  We have other efforts that have been undertaken.  We have our maritime corridor that we’ve been working on that I’d say about a week from now will be ready to go.  That will also significantly increase the assistance – not a substitute for these land access routes but an important complement to them.

And right here in Jordan, we’re seeing a direct route from Jordan to northern Gaza through Erez, the first shipments leaving today.  And in fact, the pallets that you see right here are exactly what’s going into Gaza – again, directly from Jordan.  The Jordanians are doing a remarkable job putting this together.  We’re supporting that effort directly, and then this is moving much more effectively and efficiently into Gaza and to the people who need it in the north.

So this is real and important progress, but more still needs to be done.  And in particular, we have to make sure that our focus is not only on inputs but on impact and really measuring whether the aid that people need is actually getting to them in an effective way.  And there we have some ongoing challenges that have to be met to make sure that the volume of assistance that needs to get in is getting there, the variety of assistance is getting in – not only food but also medicine and other things that people critically need.

We still have to have a deconfliction mechanism that is effective and works.  That’s a work in progress.  It needs to happen.  We need to make sure that there are enough drivers and enough trucks within Gaza so that once the assistance gets to Gaza there’s an effective distribution mechanism.  And it’s also critically important that there be a clear, affirmative list of items, of products that are – that were required for the well-being of people in Gaza, that there is a clear list, that it’s well understood, and that we don’t have arbitrary denials of products that need to get into Gaza.

And finally, and maybe equally significantly, as critical as food obviously is, it’s not enough because you also need the entire ecosystem of support that continues to be lacking – it’s water, it’s sanitation, it’s desalination, and it’s medicine and the medical facilities to make sure that people can get care.  All of this is essential if the well-being of the people of Gaza is going to be met and attended to.

So we’re going to drive forward on all these fronts.  Today, having heard directly from the humanitarians and the UN, I am now able to go to Israel tomorrow and go over with the Israeli Government the things that still need to be done if the test is going to be met of making sure that people have what they need, and we’ll be doing that tomorrow directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli Government.

So let me leave it there for now, and I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to report more tomorrow on our stop in Israel.

MR MILLER:  Michael.

QUESTION:  Yeah, Mr. Secretary – is this working?  Mr. Secretary, I’m Michael Gordon, Wall Street Journal.  You said yesterday in Riyadh that the U.S. had not yet seen a humanitarian plan from Israel that gives you the confidence that civilians can be effectively protected if Israel is to proceed with a Rafah operation.  Today, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel has already begun evacuating civilians in Rafah and that, quote, “there [would] be an operation there soon.”  My question is:  Do you have a firm commitment from Israel that it will not proceed with a Rafah operation until they have presented the United States with an updated and detailed humanitarian plan that gives you such confidence?  And do you have information from Israel or otherwise to believe a Rafah operation is imminent?

And then a last point of clarification.  The Israeli prime minister also said today that Israeli forces would enter Rafah with or without a deal, meaning if a ceasefire was arranged and it expired, they would come in after that.  Does this decision to conduct an operation with or without a ceasefire deal complicate or even jeopardize your efforts to get a normalization agreement and to lay the groundwork for a Palestinian state?  Does it complicate the effort to get a ceasefire?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Michael.  Look, our views on Rafah I think are very well known.  The President’s been very clear about it.  I’ve been clear about it and repeated it as recently as yesterday.  Where our focus is right now with – along with the humanitarian effort, our focus right now is on getting a ceasefire and hostages home.  That is the most urgent thing, and it’s also I think what is achievable, because the Israelis have put a strong proposal on the table.  They’ve demonstrated that they’re willing to compromise, and now it’s on Hamas.  And no more delays, no more excuses – the time to act is now.

So our focus is on this, and we want to see in the coming days this agreement coming together, because, again, that is the best way, the most effective way, to really deal with the suffering of the people and also to create an environment in which we can hopefully move forward to something that’s really sustainable and that has lasting peace for the people who so desperately need it and lasting security for Israelis as well.

MR MILLER:  Missy.

QUESTION:  Hi, Mr. Secretary.  I have two questions.  The first one is on aid to Gaza.  You’ve mentioned impact, and it now seems that the biggest emerging problem is the aid shipments increases distribution of aid within the strip, but Israel and the UN continue to blame each other for the distribution problems within Gaza.  You mentioned some of them – the trucks, deconfliction, other things.  What specifically does the U.S. Government think needs to be done and by whom to address those problems?

And then the second question about human rights.  This administration came into office saying it would put human rights at the center of its foreign policy.  But six months into the war, there’s a widespread perception in many parts of the world that the U.S. is failing to call out violations of IHL by Israel in Gaza and that there’s a double standard when it comes to human rights in Israel.  Whether or not that perception is justified or not, what steps are you taking to ensure that this perception doesn’t undermine your global human rights agenda, which I know is something that you personally care about?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, first on the aid, what I heard today from the UN and the other humanitarians and notably from the senior UN envoy, and this is Sigrid Kaag, is a determination to work closely and effectively with all concerned to make sure that the aid is getting in and then getting to people who need it.  And this is not about pointing fingers and playing a blame game.  It’s about taking the practical, concrete steps that are necessary to make this work as effectively as it possibly can.  And I heard a determination to do that.  I’m going to make sure that Israel has the same determination, because that’s the only thing that counts.

And it’s clear that there are some things that need to happen that haven’t happened that – to really maximize these efforts and maximize the impact, not just the inputs.   And for example – you mentioned a couple of them – we need to get more trucks into Gaza itself so that once the aid is there it can get distributed.  We need to make sure that there’s a steady flow of drivers who can get in and be there to drive these trucks.  There’s got to be a sufficient supply of fuel to make sure that the trucks can move around.  There are things like road repairs that continue to have to take place.

And then as I mentioned, there’s everything else that’s attendant to this, particularly when it comes to repairing water pipelines.  The Israelis are working on that, not only the lines that go into Gaza but within Gaza, the distribution networks.  The same thing for sanitation.  Anyway, there’s a really important list of things that need to get done, and we want to make sure that everyone is working together to actually get it done.

When it comes to human rights, look, let me be very clear, there is no double standard.  We apply the same standards to everyone around the world, including Israel.  We do the work on a regular basis when we have reports of human rights violations.  And we work through that, and we work through the process, and we do it the same way with Israel as we would do with any other country, and whether that’s an ally or partner or whether that may be an adversary.

And so you’ve seen that – some of the work that we’re doing, including applying the Leahy Law and other steps that we’re taking.  And again, we’ll let the results speak for themselves.  We will let the work that we’re doing and the conclusions that we reach and the actions we take speak for themselves.

Thank you.

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS