Blinken: Hamas should accept 'extraordinarily generous' Israeli truce offer

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a joint ministerial meeting with his Saudi counterparts in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 29, 2024. [AP Photo]

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday he is hopeful Hamas will accept what he characterized as Israel’s “extraordinarily generous” offer for a cease-fire in Gaza in return for the release of hostages.

"In this moment, the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a cease-fire is Hamas," Blinken said in Riyadh, on a trip to the Mideast for more talks on halting the nearly seven-month-old Israel-Hamas war.

"They have to decide — and they have to decide quickly," Blinken said of the militants that Israel declared war on after their October 7 attack on Israel killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 250 hostages. "I'm hopeful that they will make the right decision.

"We can have a fundamental change in the dynamic," Blinken said.

A delegation from Hamas was due Monday in Egypt, which with Qatar has been seeking to broker a deal that would halt the Israeli offensive and see hostages freed. Israel’s counter-offensive in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, a figure that Israel says includes several thousand Hamas fighters it has killed.

Meanwhile, Blinken said in Riyadh that the U.S. is close to finishing a security agreement with Saudi Arabia that would be offered if the country makes peace with Israel.

“The work that Saudi Arabia, the United States have been doing together in terms of our own agreements, I think, is potentially very close to completion,” Blinken told an audience at the World Economic Forum.

He added the two nations have done intensive work together over the last month on Israeli-Saudi normalization.

Blinken disclosed that he was scheduled to be in Saudi Arabia and Israel on October 10 last year to focus specifically on the Palestinian part of the normalization deal because that is an essential component. But it did not happen because of the Hamas terror attack on Israel.

“In order to move forward with normalization, two things will be required: Calm in Gaza and a credible pathway to a Palestinian state,” Blinken said.

U.S. officials have said creating a pathway to a Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel is key to lasting peace and security in the Middle East and to Israel's integration in the region.

Blinken met Monday with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman for nearly an hour to discuss the Gaza conflict and ongoing tensions in the Mideast. He then headed to Jordan before another stop in Israel, where he is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials.

The Biden administration continues to work on a potential security agreement with Saudi Arabia that could lead to normalization of Saudi relations with Israel, even as some officials and analysts consider it a remote possibility.

Last week, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he plans to return to Saudi Arabia soon. Sullivan had earlier postponed his trip to the Middle East due to a cracked rib.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has rejected the two-state solution and the return of the Palestinian Authority to control Gaza, demands that are widely supported by the international community.

The Saudis have demanded, as a prerequisite, to see an Israeli commitment to the two-state solution.

Nimrod Goren, a senior fellow for Israeli affairs at the Middle East Institute, told VOA in an email, “Saudi Arabia has been gradually opening towards Israel for a decade. Significant progress was made in the months prior to the Hamas attack of October 7, with the hope of linking an Israeli-Saudi normalization agreement to a pre-presidential election, U.S.-Saudi defense pact. The war stalled the process, but talks are continuing and are at a decisive phase.”

If Netanyahu's opposition to the two-state solution remains unchanged, Goren added, he might struggle to secure normalization with Saudi Arabia.

Humanitarian assistance

Speaking at a meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh earlier Monday, Blinken said the best way to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is for there to be a cease-fire.

Blinken is visiting Riyadh, Amman, and Tel Aviv through Wednesday — his seventh diplomatic mission to the Middle East region since the Israel-Hamas war began more than six months ago.

Some analysts said the United States needs to fully enforce its law and arms policy on Israel to ensure accountability and adequate humanitarian aid delivery.

Ari Tolany, director of the Center for International Policy's security assistance monitor, told VOA, “U.S. law and policy will need to hold its largest recipient of security assistance to account for a meaningful peace.”

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby on Sundat told ABC’s “This Week” that the United States is continuing to push for a six-week cease-fire. He said Israel has assured U.S. officials it will not send ground troops into the southern Gaza city of Rafah without fully hearing U.S. concerns that such an attack would endanger the lives of more than 1 million Palestinians who are sheltering there.

Kirby said that a makeshift Mediterranean Sea pier being constructed on the Gaza shoreline could be completed in two or three weeks so that more humanitarian aid can be transported into the narrow territory to help feed many starving Palestinians.