DAVOS, Switzerland — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Israel cannot achieve “genuine security” without a pathway to a Palestinian state, insisting such a move could help unify the Middle East and isolate Israel’s top rival: Iran.
Speaking at World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, Blinken said the view of leaders in the Arab and Muslim world have changed on Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state would help Israel integrate in the region.
“The problem is getting from here to there, and of course, it requires very difficult, challenging decisions. It requires a mindset that is open to that perspective,” Blinken said.
The Biden administration has been at pains to navigate between longtime U.S. support for Israel and growing concerns that too many Palestinian civilians have been killed or injured in Israel’s war against Hamas militants since their deadly Oct. 7 rampage in Israel.
Blinken reiterated the need for a “pathway to a Palestinian state” and said Israel would not “get genuine security absent that.”
His comments came as Iran’s foreign minister graced the same hallways of the glitzy event in the Alpine snows: Hossein Amirabdollahian warned that fighting could intensify in the region if Israel doesn’t end its campaign.
“Today, we are witnessing genocide in Gaza and the West Bank, this means that war is ongoing, so there is possibility of extension,“ Amirabdollahian said in a separate Q&A session. He didn’t meet with Blinken.
The top Iranian diplomat also acknowledged a missile strike Tuesday on Pakistan, calling it part of a fight against “terrorism,” and said Iran targeted Israeli sites in Iraq this week — moves that threaten to further ignite violence in the Middle East. The governments of Pakistan and Iraq both criticized the action directed by Tehran.
“We do respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan — also that of Iraq — but we don’t allow our security to be compromised and played with,” Amirabdollahian said through a translator.
With a barrage of attacks in recent days heightening fears of a broader war in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said on a Davos panel Tuesday that the kingdom agreed “regional peace includes peace for Israel.” He said Saudi Arabia “certainly” would recognize Israel as part of a larger political agreement.
“But that can only happen through peace for the Palestinians, through a Palestinian state,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a right-wing government that is opposed to Palestinian statehood, and Netanyahu himself recently said that his actions over the years prevented the formation of such a state.
Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund who is believed to be a candidate for a future leadership position in the Palestinian Authority, said the international community has to “move fast and boldly to stop this aggression.”
He says the first step is getting food, water, medicine and other aid into Gaza to prevent hunger from causing more deaths, then pivot to what he calls the root problem: occupation.
“Occupation cannot continue,” he said. “No people will accept to be oppressed the way Palestinian people have been oppressed.”
The leaders of France, Argentina and Spain also delivered speeches on a busy second day of the elite gathering, where heads of state mingle with corporate executives, activists and more.
Attendees are taking up other weighty issues, such as artificial intelligence and climate change, with International Monetary Fund head Kristalina Georgieva saying she’s “sick and tired” of hearing people say climate funding is too expensive.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres didn’t hold back either: “Let me be very clear — the phaseout of fossil fuels is essential and inevitable.”
He cited scientists’ recent findings that last year was the hottest on record and warned that “droughts, storms, fires and floods are pummeling countries and communities.”
To combat those effects, Colombian President Gustavo Petro called for an “American pact” on developing clean energy sources, which also would help ease the economic disparities between North and South America.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis urged business leaders at Davos to “be increasingly guided not simply by the pursuit of fair profit, but also by high ethical standards” because national governments cannot regulate the global economy for the common good.
The pope sent a letter to Davos organizers saying wars worldwide show the need to tackle what he called the root causes of conflicts: economic injustices, hunger and exploitation of natural resources.
Blinken, who met at Davos this week with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and others, was asked in a conversation with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman whether Jewish lives matter more than Palestinian lives. He responded, “No, period.”
“What we’re seeing every single day in Gaza is gut-wrenching,” he said.
To ease that suffering, the U.S. is pushing to get more humanitarian assistance to Palestinians and press Israel the ensure it minimizes civilian casualties, Blinken said.
South Africa has formally accused Israel of genocide against Palestinians and pleaded with the top U.N. court to order Israel to halt military operations in Gaza.
Israel has responded by calling its war a legitimate defense of its people and saying Hamas is guilty of genocide, focusing on the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war.
Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and captured around 250. Amid a barrage of bombings and intense fighting, over 24,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, Gaza’s Health Ministry says.
France, along with Qatar, helped mediate an agreement to ship medicine into Gaza for dozens of hostages held by Hamas. The shipment is due to arrive Wednesday, the same day French leader Emmanuel Macron is speaking in Davos.
AP writer Courtney Bonnell in London; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Nicole Winfield in Rome; Sibi Arasu in Bengaluru, India; and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain; contributed.