Blinken to Meet With Arab Officials in Saudi Arabia About Israel-Gaza War

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will travel to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday to speak with top Arab officials and try to figure out possible solutions for the thorniest issues of the Israel-Gaza war, including humanitarian aid, reconstruction and hostages, the State Department said on Saturday.

One of Mr. Blinken’s priorities on Monday and Tuesday will be discussing “ongoing efforts to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza that secures the release of hostages,” a department spokesman, Matthew Miller, said in a statement. He added that Mr. Blinken would underscore his belief that it is Hamas that stands in the way of a cease-fire for the Palestinian people, since the group is not budging on the hostage negotiations.

Saudi Arabia is hosting a three-day meeting of the World Economic Forum, and top Arab officials, including Mr. Blinken’s diplomatic counterparts, are attending. They include senior ministers from Qatar and Egypt, which have been the two Arab mediators in multiple rounds of talks over a potential hostage agreement between Israel and Hamas.

The forum’s website says Mr. Blinken will be in a half-hour public “conversation” starting at 12:45 p.m. on Monday, the final day of the conference.

American officials are pushing for Hamas to release about 40 of the 100 or more hostages it is holding in exchange for the liberation of many more Palestinian prisoners and a six-week cease-fire. U.S. officials say that would be the first step in securing a permanent cease-fire, and Israel supports the proposal. However, Hamas has insisted on a commitment to a permanent cease-fire, and many Arab officials, including in Saudi Arabia, have been calling for the same; those officials say that such a cease-fire should take place immediately.

Mr. Blinken and other top aides of President Biden have also been trying to push for a long-term political solution to the conflict. In their best-case scenario, they envision Saudi Arabia and perhaps a few other Arab nations agreeing to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel. In exchange, Saudi Arabia would receive advanced weapons and security guarantees, including a mutual defense treaty, from the United States, and a commitment for U.S. cooperation on a civilian nuclear program in the kingdom.

For its part, Israel would have to commit to a concrete pathway to the founding of a Palestinian nation, with specific deadlines, U.S. and Saudi officials say.

Before the war started last October, U.S. and Saudi officials were in intense discussions to reach an agreement on the terms of such a proposal. For those negotiators, a big question at the time was what Israel would agree to. Since the war began, the Americans and Saudis have publicly insisted that Israel must agree to the existence of a Palestinian state.

But Israeli leaders and ordinary citizens have become even more resistant to that idea since the Oct. 7 attacks, in which Hamas and allied gunmen killed more than 1,200 people and took about 240 people as hostages. About 100 of the hostages were released last November in a prisoner swap during a weeklong cease-fire. The Israeli military has launched attacks to eradicate Hamas from Gaza, where the health ministry says more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed.

Mr. Miller also said on Saturday that Mr. Blinken planned to discuss “continued progress on climate change mitigation and the global energy transition” at one of the World Economic Forum events. The secretary also expected to attend a meeting of ministers from nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional organization, to talk about security coordination.

An Israeli official told The New York Times on Friday that Mr. Blinken planned to visit Israel while in the region.

If Mr. Blinken does go there, the topics he is likely to discuss would no doubt be the same ones on his agenda for Riyadh, including increasing humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza, a potential political solution in the form of a multicountry megadeal and the impasse over a hostage/cease-fire agreement. He would also probably discuss Israel’s plans for a major offensive in the Rafah area of Gaza, which Mr. Biden opposes.

The details of Mr. Blinken’s scheduled trips to the Middle East often change at the last minute. As of Saturday night, the State Department has not announced any stops beyond Riyadh.

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