MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining this call, and especially thanks for joining it on short notice.
As you saw from the department as well as from the White House this morning, Secretary Blinken will be traveling to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, and Amman at the request of President Biden and will be departing later today. We wanted to give you an opportunity to hear a little bit more about this travel and to ask questions.
We have with us this morning a senior State Department official to offer a bit more context and to take your questions. This call is embargoed until the end of the call. It is also on background. You can attribute what you hear to a senior State Department official. Just for the knowledge of those on this call, you’ll be hearing today from [Senior State Department Official], who will be speaking and answering your questions, but again, he will be referred to as a senior State Department official, and this is embargoed until the end of the call.
So with that, I will turn it over to our speaker. Please, go ahead.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, and good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining. I want to speak to you on the Secretary’s upcoming trip to Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, and Jordan, as well as take your questions after this bit, but first I want to recognize the important development of last week, the ceasefire led by Egypt.
This ceasefire was agreed to after 11 days of violence which tragically claimed the lives of innocent Palestinians and Israelis, including children, and it’s just really heartbreaking. The United States wants to convey our deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones in the conflict, and our thoughts go out to those who are wounded.
We’re relieved the violence has come to an end, and I just really want to share that the U.S. worked tirelessly with all our partners in the region, including Israelis and Palestinians in public, but much, much more importantly, behind the scenes to help the ceasefire come about. We really appreciate the important role played by Egypt, which was critical in the effort to mediate an end to the violence, and also really appreciate the roles of Jordan and Qatar and other partners who played a role here.
Look, in the wake of the ceasefire, Secretary Blinken will be traveling to Israel and the West Bank today and tomorrow, where he’ll meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He’ll then move on to Egypt and Jordan, where he’ll meet with leaders there to discuss recovery efforts and a means of working together to build better futures for people here on the ground and in the region.
Again, we’re incredibly relieved at the terrible violence which tore apart the lives of so many innocents has ended, and we’re committed to supporting all efforts to a lasting peace. The Secretary looks forward to meeting regional leaders and discussing how the U.S. can support Israelis and Palestinians to rebuild and address the underlying causes that led to this crisis, and by advancing equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike in tangible ways.
With that, I’d love to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Great, thanks very much. We will start with the line of Nick Wadhams, please.
QUESTION: Hey, I’m here. Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. [Senior State Department Official], thank you. It’s a short trip. Can you give us a little more detail on what the Secretary hopes to achieve from this? The ceasefire has already been signed. Is it the hope that he will set them on the course toward actually trying to jumpstart broader peace talks, a lasting settlement? Or is he more just hoping to provide impetus so that this ceasefire sticks? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you. In the first instance, the most important thing is that the ceasefire does hold. It’s an – extremely important that it does. We just – we don’t want to see a return to the bloodshed that was heartbreaking during the 11-day conflict. And we’re certainly going to look for ways to improve Israeli and Palestinian lives, and as we’ve said over and over again, advance freedom, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike, hopefully in tangible ways in the immediate term.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk.
MODERATOR: Yes, we have you.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks for this. Just a quick follow-up on Nick and something else as well. The Secretary and others have said the focus at the moment is to keep the ceasefire intact, and he just said that, and rebuild as well. But just to push you a little bit on that because I really didn’t hear an answer, could this be an opportunity to lay the – at least the groundwork for future peace talks? And if yes, what exactly will you be doing towards that?
And the second one is: How can the U.S. guarantee aid to Gaza won’t be diverted toward replenishing the Hamas arsenal? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So on the second question, we’re going to be working in partnership with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to kind of channel aid there in a manner that does its best to go to the people of Gaza. I’m also sure that the Government of Egypt will have some role in that. As we’ve seen in life, as we all know in life, there are no guarantees, but we’re going to do everything that we can to ensure that this assistance reaches the people who need it the most.
Again, regarding your question, we’re really focused primarily on ensuring that the ceasefire sticks and taking the steps to – taking tangible steps to advance the quality of people’s lives: advance their freedom, advance their security, and advance their prosperity. We believe that in the immediate term, that’s what’s feasible and that’s what’s important.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to Barak Ravid.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) questions. First, is the Secretary going to meet also Minister of Defense Gantz and head of opposition, Lapid? It wasn’t mentioned in the statement that was released.
And second, there seems to be quite a lot of donor fatigue around the world, and many countries are saying that they’re not going to give again money to reconstruct Gaza without the broader context of a two-state solution. How are you going to deal with this position?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: [Moderator], do you want to comment anything on the schedule?
MODERATOR: Barak, the – we’ll have more details on the schedule as we get closer to the ground, and we’ll update as we can.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks, [Moderator]. So look, on donor fatigue, we acknowledge that, we understand that, and it’s understandable. There has been a cycle of violence between Israel and Hamas that’s gone on for years and it’s even over a decade old, so we understand that. But we also understand that the international community does want to help the people of Gaza. And so we’re just going to be focused on providing assistance – seeing that assistance is provided in a manner that’s consistent with our goals, and that’s what it’s about right now. It’s just about improving lives today. Over.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to Lara Jakes. Do we have Lara?
OPERATOR: One moment, please. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Oh, hi. Thanks. I’m sorry if this got asked in the first question. My phone got dropped weirdly. But I was just curious as to how you all envision helping rebuild Gaza by working with the PA given that Hamas and the PA can’t stand each other and Hamas controls Gaza. How is that going to work?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s a great question. And we’ve been meeting regularly and intensively with the United Nations, which is going to – we expect to lead the reconstruction efforts there. We’ve also been meeting with the PA and together with the United Nations to look for a formula to kind of create a partnership between the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to channel through the reconstruction assistance. And I think we don’t talk to Hamas, obviously, but we would – we expect that they understand that if assistance is going to come in, that’s the manner it’s going to do so. But you’re right; it presents significant challenges. But we believe that by doing so it will get us on the pathway, we hope eventually, to a reintegration to some extent of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, which we hope in turn can help create the conditions to move us forward to a more stable situation.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to Nadia Bilbassy.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) hear me?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
MODERATOR: Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thank you for doing this. Thank you, [Senior State Department Official] – thank you, [Senior State Department Official]. Sorry. So two of my questions have been asked, but let me rephrase – so basically, can you say it’s premature to think that this trip will really ignite the peace process, and the focus mainly really is on reconstruction and on maintaining the ceasefire? Number one. And number two, since there is – one of my colleagues mentioned the donor fatigue, can – did you ask the Gulf states to help since they have been talking about helping Gaza, despite of Hamas being in control? And will the money again be channeled through the PA, or the UN, or one of the states who have some influence on Hamas, which is primarily Qatar? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, Nadia, for the question. They’re good questions. Look, so in terms of the funding, we’re in close communication with our partners in the Gulf about how to move forward. Things are still pretty early. The United Nations hasn’t even completed its back-of-the-envelope assessment yet in terms of the needs, and they’ll be going into Gaza and continue to go in to conduct these assessments in the days ahead. But we’re in touch with the Gulf, and again, we are – and other donors – and we’re trying to structure things, again, in a way that diminishes Hamas’s abilities, strengthens the people of Gaza, begins a process of hopefully reintroducing and reintegrating the Palestinian Authority into Gaza, and is in partnership with the United Nations. We are – as I said, we are primarily focused on making sure that the ceasefire holds, on making sure that the people of Gaza get the relief that they desperately need, and that we create the conditions to hopefully advance forward.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to Nike Ching.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) call. I would like to ask about the Palestinian elections. Does the United States have a position on Palestinian elections? Do you see the elections as a necessary step towards reviving Palestinian democratic institutions? And is there something on the agenda when Secretary Blinken met with Abbas? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So look, the administration has been consistent that the exercise of democratic elections are a matter for the Palestinian people and government to determine, not the United States Government. So that’s – we believe that democracy is up to them and it’s up to the Palestinian people in government on how to proceed. So I’ll just leave it there.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to Mouhamed Elahmed.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. I have three questions. First, should we expect an extension of the Secretary trip to the Middle East that would include a possible visit to the Gulf region as well? Also, would the U.S. consider inviting the parties to Washington, D.C. – that is, the Palestinians and the Israelis – as well as regional players and leaders to Washington, D.C., for example, to revive the peace talks? And last question: What is the U.S. vision to the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the drop of what happened recently? Thank you so much.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you so much for those questions. So the United States remains committed to the two-state solution. That remains the vision of the United States, and we are not wavering from that in any way. It’s probably premature at this time to invite the parties to Washington or anywhere else. We are – so this will be the Secretary’s first trip to the region. He’ll be engaging with the parties and listening to them and – again, with a focus on a cease – ensuring that the ceasefire holds and keeping – ensuring that the ceasefire holds. I’ll just leave it there. In terms of the expansion of the trip, [Moderator], I’ll leave all those questions to you.
MODERATOR: Sure. Thanks for that. At this point, we expect the Secretary will be visiting Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, and Amman. As always, if there are updates to that schedule, we will let you know.
We’ll go to the line of Andrea Mitchell. Do we have Andrea?
OPERATOR: I do not see Andrea’s —
MODERATOR: It look – it may be spelled “An Mitchell” in the system.
OPERATOR: Oh, yes. Thank you, one moment.
MODERATOR: Go ahead, Andrea.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me? Given the perception that Hamas has been considerably strengthened politically by this with the people of Gaza showing their muscle against Israel, do they effectively have veto power over how the aid, if it materializes, is going to be distributed despite the efforts to run it through the UN and the Palestinian Authority? Just following up on what Lara asked, how do you circumvent the PA in this instance?
And secondly, how important is it to get some kind of commitment – if not elections, but some other kind of commitment from the Palestinian Authority given the problems that they have had in the past in terms of proper administration of aid?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right, so thank you for those questions. We certainly don’t see Hamas as having a veto power. We’re going to be working with the United Nations, and the United Nations has a significant and meaningful presence on the ground there. And we are confident that working in partnership with them and also with the involvement of the Palestinian Authority in the process, we will get the job done.
In terms of the Palestinian Authority, look, again, the aid is going to be primarily going through the United Nations with the participation of the Palestinian Authority. And that’s going to be our – that’s going to be our focus. So we’re not – so that’s really going to be our focus. I’ll leave it there.
MODERATOR: We’ll take a final question or two here. Let’s go to the line of Karen DeYoung.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, hi, thank you. Given that the Israelis said that their goal during this operation was to prevent a recurrence – in other words, to completely destroy the Hamas infrastructure and armaments that let this happen – are you confident at this point that Israel has either achieved that goal, or has agreed, if not, that it – that this is over, that it will be abide by the ceasefire? And also, does Secretary Blinken plan on addressing with the Israeli Government some of the concerns that have been expressed here, particularly in Congress, about Israeli actions and how that might influence the relationship and assistance relationship in the future?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So what I would say is first of all, I’m not going to get into the content of the conversations that we expect to happen, but there’s no question there will be forthright and important conversations on the Secretary’s first trip out here.
In terms of the destruction of Hamas’s capabilities, my sense is – our sense is that, of course, that’s not complete. They’re still there on the ground, they’re still a presence, and that’s why we’re restructuring the way we engage on this file in a manner that seeks to diminish and contain their efforts. But look, we take the commitments we received from all the parties seriously, and we have every hope and expectation that the ceasefire will continue to hold, at least in the immediate term, and we’re going to do everything we can to work with our partners to ensure that it does continue to hold.
So yeah, I’ll just – I’ll leave it there.
MODERATOR: And we’ll take a final question from Michele Kelemen.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So I’m just – I’m wondering, just broadly, do you see any prospects of reviving diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians? And how is the street violence within Israeli cities complicating any of this? Have you had any message to Israel about that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So again, our primary focus is on maintaining the ceasefire, getting the assistance to the people who need it. In the first instance, we’ve restarted, as you’ve seen, our relationship with the Palestinian people and leadership that was missing in action for a number of years now and did nothing to restart diplomacy, so in and of itself, that is an important first step. This is going to be an important trip for the Secretary to meet with Israeli leaders and three Arab leaders in Ramallah, Cairo, and Amman, Jordan, along with their associates. So we are kind of reopening the chapter of engagement and working that way.
Look, in terms of the inter-communal violence and tensions in Israel, obviously, I think the world has seen that. That is a significant concern. And look, the United States has just gone through a period where we have kind of confronted or been forced to confront our own challenges at home. And so we understand that other countries are also going through similar challenges. So that will be – so I’m sure – let me just say while the focus is primarily on making sure the ceasefire holds in Gaza and bilateral relations with the governments with which we’ll be meeting, obviously, other issues like that I’m sure will come up.
MODERATOR: Well, thanks very much to our speaker. Thanks very much for everyone who was able to call in. As a reminder, this call is on background to a senior State Department official. And with that, the embargo is lifted. Thank you all very much.