Blinken calls outgoing PM Lapid to thank him, warn of spiraling West Bank violence

Secretary of state commends ‘Israel for its free and fair elections’; call comes amid predictions of tensions between right-wing Netanyahu government and Biden administration

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, July 13, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, July 13, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid late Thursday to thank him for his partnership and to voice alarm about rising tensions in the West Bank.

Blinken spoke to Lapid to “commend Israel for its free and fair elections, and to thank the prime minister for his partnership,” the State Department said in a statement.

Blinken voiced “his deep concern over the situation in the West Bank, including heightened tensions, violence and loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives, and underscored the need for all parties to urgently de-escalate the situation.”

His warning comes as former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to return to power at the head of what will likely be one of the most right-wing governments Israel has ever had, and amid predictions it could see renewed tensions between Israel and the Biden administration.

Lapid, who has now conceded, last year cobbled together an unlikely coalition united in opposition to Netanyahu.

Also serving as foreign minister, Lapid prioritized smooth relations with the United States, warning that Netanyahu had alienated Israel’s allies in US President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party.

Netanyahu worked closely with former president Donald Trump and had tense relations with previous Democratic president Barack Obama, rallying the then-US leader’s domestic critics to oppose a now-moribund 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.

Netanyahu’s Likud party and its far-right allies triumphed on Tuesday in the country’s fifth election in four years. Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir is likely to serve as a minister in the anticipated government.

Ben Gvir is a self-described disciple of extremist rabbi and former MK Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned and declared a terror group in the 1980s in both Israel and the US. Like the late Kahane, Ben Gvir was convicted in the past of supporting a terror organization, though he insists he has become more moderate in recent years and does not hold the same beliefs as the Kach founder.

Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir outside a hotel the morning after the Israeli general elections, in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022. (Flash90)

An Axios report on Wednesday said that the Biden administration was likely to boycott Ben Gvir if he is appointed to a ministerial post as expected.

Citing two anonymous US officials, the report said the administration will work with Netanyahu’s expected future government but may decide to refuse to deal directly with the far-right firebrand.

And former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said that a future Netanyahu government could have a “rocky” relationship with the Biden administration.

“The Biden administration doesn’t have a good history of relations with Netanyahu, and if he takes on these far-right extremists into his government and into his cabinet, then I think we’re in for a rocky road,” Indyk said in remarks broadcast on Channel 12.

The last year has also seen a spike in violence in the West Bank with near-daily army raids and an increase in clashes and attacks on Israeli forces. Israel on Thursday killed four Palestinians, including a car-rammer and an Islamic Jihad terror group member, security officials said.

An anti-terror offensive launched earlier this year and focused on the northern West Bank has netted more than 2,000 arrests in near-nightly raids. It has also left over 125 Palestinians dead, many of them — but not all — while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces.

The IDF’s anti-terror offensive in the West Bank was launched following a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people earlier this year.

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