Defense chiefs also talk, vow to continue cooperation

Biden congratulates PM Bennett in phone call as US embraces new government

US leader says he looks ‘forward to working’ with premier ‘to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations;’ FM Lapid invited to Washington

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

US President Joe Biden speaks to American service members at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, June 9, 2021. (AP Photo/ Patrick Semansky)
US President Joe Biden speaks to American service members at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, June 9, 2021. (AP Photo/ Patrick Semansky)

US President Joe Biden congratulated new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Sunday night on being sworn in as the head of a new government coalition, issuing a statement and immediately following it up with a phone call.

“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet,” Biden said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”

US Secretary of State Blinken also called Lapid to congratulate him and invite him to visit Washington. The Biden administration’s move to quickly embrace the fledgling government came after Benjamin Netanyahu used his final speech as prime minister to air his grievances with Washington.

Biden, who took office in January, said “Israel has no better friend than the United States. The bond that unites our people is evidence of our shared values and decades of close cooperation and as we continue to strengthen our partnership, the United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security.”

The president added that his administration “is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.”

In response, Bennett tweeted his thanks to Biden.

“Thank you Mr. President! I look forward to working with you to strengthen the ties between our two nations,” he wrote.

Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, June 13, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The two leaders spoke by phone later in the evening, with the White House releasing a statement saying Biden congratulated Bennett and reiterated his intention to work with him to bolster the relationship between the US and Israel.

“President Biden highlighted his decades of steadfast support for the U.S.-Israel relationship and his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security. He expressed his firm intent to deepen cooperation between the United States and Israel on the many challenges and opportunities facing the region,” the statement said.

“The leaders agreed that they and their teams would consult closely on all matters related to regional security, including Iran. The President also conveyed that his administration intends to work closely with the Israeli government on efforts to advance peace, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians,” it concluded.”

According to a readout from Bennett’s office, the prime minister thanked “Biden for his warm wishes on the inauguration of the new government, and for his long-standing commitment to the State of Israel and its security.

“Prime Minister Bennett noted his appreciation for the President, and for his support for Israel during the recent operation in Gaza (Guardian of the Walls), and noted that he considers him a great friend of the State of Israel,” the statement said. “In their conversation, the leaders emphasized the importance of the alliance between Israel and the United States, as well as their commitment to strengthening ties between the two countries, and maintaining the security of the State of Israel.”

Blinken also congratulated Bennett on becoming prime minister.

The US “warmly welcomes the announcement of a new government of the State of Israel,” Blinken said in a statement. The secretary of state added that the US looks forward to working closely with the new coalition. “The United States will continue to work with Israel to advance the cause of peace, and we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security.”

Israeli Foreign minister Yair Lapid arrives to the new government’s first cabinet meeting on June 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He then also spoke with Lapid, with the talks focusing on the “US commitment to Israel’s security, the importance of maintaining a cessation of hostilities, opportunities to deepen and broaden normalization of diplomatic relations, the threat posed by Iran, and other regional priorities,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“The Secretary noted that he looked forward to welcoming the Minister to Washington soon as the two governments work to build an even stronger relationship between our countries and our peoples,” the statement said.

Also Sunday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke with his American counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, after being sworn in again following the formation of an Israeli government.

“I greatly look forward to continuing the paramount work alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin to protect the steadfast alliance between Israel and the US, the stability of the Middle East, and the safety of our peoples,” Gantz said after the call.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he arrives in Cairo on May 26, 2021. (Photo by Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP)

In his speech ahead of the vote and swearing-in on Sunday evening, Bennett thanked Biden for his support during the recent 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

“I want to thank the president of the United States of America, Joe Biden, for standing alongside Israel during the last operation in Gaza, ‘Guardian of the Walls,’ and for his longstanding commitment to the security of Israel,” Bennett told the Knesset plenum. “We greatly appreciate the support of the United States, our greatest friend. My government will make an effort to deepen and nurture relations with our friends in both parties — bipartisan. If there are disputes, we will manage them with fundamental trust, and mutual respect.”

Netanyahu, meanwhile, used his final speech to the Knesset plenum as prime minister to air some grievances with the new US administration, as he slammed Bennett as unfit for office.

“The new US administration requested that I save our disagreements on the Iran nuclear deal for behind closed doors, and not share them publicly,” Netanyahu said. “I told them I won’t act that way.” Netanyahu compared the US efforts to reenter the Iran nuclear deal to the decision by then-US president Franklin Roosevelt not to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz in 1944.

Netanyahu said that the Biden administration has already requested a settlement building freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which he said he rejected, and he slammed the recent decision to reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem that serves Palestinians.

He said the move will “bring the division of Jerusalem back to the agenda. I told our American friends, ‘You want to reopen the consulate, then reopen it — in Abu Dis! Not in sovereign Jerusalem.’”

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