Blinken speaks to Ashkenazi, touts Biden support for 2-state solution

Third conversation this month between top diplomats; US says resolution only way to ensure Israel remains both democratic and Jewish; statement makes no mention of Iran

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. (Collage/AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. (Collage/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, reiterating the Biden administration’s belief that a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians is the only way to maintain both Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.

The conversation was the third between the two top diplomats in under a month.

“The Secretary also emphasized the Biden administration’s belief that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state,” State Department Ned Price said in a statement.

The emphasis on the two-state solution represents a departure from the Trump administration’s stance on the matter. The former president initially refused to endorse the concept only to later use it as the general basis for his peace plan which called for a “realistic two-state solution.” However, critics said the plan’s endorsement of Israel annexing all of its settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley left the Palestinians with a semi-contiguous territory that could not represent a state.

Israel later postponed its plans to annex these areas in return for the Trump-brokered normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a map of the Jordan Valley, vowing to extend Israeli sovereignty there if reelected, during a speech in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

In the call, Blinken also noted the US commitment to “opposing unfair, one-sided actions against Israel in the multilateral arena.”

This appears to be a reference to this month’s ruling by the International Criminal Court’s pretrial chamber concluding that The Hague has jurisdiction to open a criminal investigation against Israel and the Palestinians for war crimes alleged to have taken place in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Washington, which also faces possible war crimes probes at the ICC, came out quickly against the February 5 ruling.

Ashkenazi and Blinken previously spoke a day after the ICC decision and a week after Biden took office. Only the UK’s Dominic Raab has spoken with Blinken more frequently since he took office.

The State Department readout said the two leaders “acknowledged the steadfast partnership between the United States and Israel” and also discussed other unspecified regional issues.

The Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC), composed of Judge Péter Kovács, Presiding Judge, Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut and Judge Reine Alapini-Gansou (courtesy ICC)

No mention was made of Iran, which is likely the most urgent issue concerning the two countries in the region.

There was no immediate Israeli readout of the conversation.

Earlier Monday, Blinken said the US is prepared to return to the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran shows “strict compliance” with it.

The Biden administration has also reversed the Trump administration’s assertion that all UN sanctions against Iran should be restored. Trump’s move had been ignored by the rest of the Security Council and the world, and the overwhelming majority of members in the 15-nation council had called the action illegal because the US was no longer a member of the nuclear deal.

Washington also eased stringent restrictions on the domestic US travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.

Israel has voiced strong opposition to Washington returning to the 2015 nuclear deal in its original form.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded on Friday to a US announcement that it was willing to hold talks with Tehran on a return to the nuclear deal, saying Israel believes the old agreement will “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”

Whereas Blinken and Ashkenazi have been speaking regularly, it took Biden four weeks to call Netanyahu last week in what many claimed was a snub after the Israeli government’s warm embrace of the Trump administration, following a frosty relationship with former president Barak Obama.

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