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Bennett, Blinken stress ongoing cooperation on Iran, despite political turmoil

In phone call in wake of Bennett’s announcement on Knesset dissolution, the two highlight importance of Biden’s upcoming trip, thank each other for partnership

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke on Tuesday night with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with the two agreeing that close cooperation would continue in combating threats emanating from Tehran.

According to a statement from Bennett’s office, they also discussed the importance of US President Joe Biden’s visit in July, which will go ahead as planned despite Israel’s political turmoil.

On Monday evening, Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid surprised the nation by announcing their intention to voluntarily dissolve their own coalition, saying they did so after coming to a conclusion that there was no way to maintain the current government.

Blinken thanked Bennett for his efforts to strengthen US-Israel ties over his year-long tenure, and the prime minister responded in kind, thanking the secretary for his cooperation and friendship. Bennett also stressed that US-Israel ties should remain free of political considerations, a possible dig at Bennett’s predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, who was seen to have allied himself with US Republicans to the ire of many Democrats.

“Thanks to integrity, decency, and cooperation, we had many achievements,” said Bennett.

Bennett told Blinken that he would support Lapid as he in all likelihood assumes the premiership next week.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hold a joint press conference in the Knesset, on June 20, 2022, announcing the collapse of their coalition government. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

America’s top diplomat also spoke with Lapid earlier Tuesday. According to the US readout of the call, Blinken underscored US “respect for democratic processes” and reiterated Washington’s “unwavering commitment to the strong US–Israel strategic relationship.”

He also stressed that close coordination on regional and global issues would continue.

Over the 12 months that Bennett was in office, Washington and Jerusalem managed to avoid public spats on a variety of potentially explosive issues.

Despite deep disagreement on a potential US return to the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, both sides were eager to stress their ongoing dialogue instead of any discord. Biden had pledged to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem designated for Palestinian affairs, something Bennett adamantly opposed. The office remains shuttered.

Initially, the Biden administration avoided even mentioning the Abraham Accords, signed under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, by name. But the White House eventually came around, and Blinken became an active proponent of the accords, helping Lapid organize the landmark Negev Summit.

And Biden is said to have quietly asked Bennett to curb settlement construction, but plans were advanced for thousands of West Bank housing units, and for the legalization of wildcat outposts.

US President Joe Biden meets Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House, August 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

During his visit, Biden is scheduled to spend two days in Israel and the West Bank before stopping in Saudi Arabia to participate in the annual meeting of the GCC+3 with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel last week that while in Israel, Biden would meet with Bennett, Lapid, President Isaac Herzog, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

It has also been traditional for US presidents to meet with the head of the opposition, particularly during an election cycle. This would mean a potential sit-down between Biden and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who have a long relationship, though one with no shortage of disputes.

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