Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday stressed US opposition to policies that undermine efforts to reach a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, during his first call with new Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.
The United States has repeatedly stressed this position before and after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was sworn in last week. Netanyahu’s right-religious coalition has agreed to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank and legalize dozens of wildcat outposts. The first clause of its overall government guidelines specifies: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel” — an area that includes the biblical Judea and Samaria, today’s West Bank.
Netanyahu’s Likud party has also agreed in principle with the far-right Religious Zionism faction to work to annex large parts of the West Bank. However, those two parties’ coalition deal includes a clause giving the premier an effective veto, which he is likely to maintain, as he seeks a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.
For the Biden administration, any moves toward West Bank annexation or changing the status quo barring Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount represent “red lines,” according to two Israeli and US officials familiar with the matter.
Besides the State Department’s emphasis on the administration’s “continued commitment to a two-state solution and opposition to policies that endanger its viability,” the US and Israeli readouts on the roughly 40-minute Blinken-Cohen call were largely the same.
According to the statements, Blinken and Cohen talked about the US commitment to Israel’s security, as well as efforts to strengthen the Abraham Accords and advance Israel’s integration in the region. They also discussed the Iran nuclear threat.
Blinken told Cohen that US efforts to revive the Iran nuclear agreement were currently on hold, due to Tehran’s intractable stance, the ongoing protests in the Islamic Republic and the latter’s intensified cooperation with Russian forces invading Ukraine — a reality that the new Israeli government is likely satisfied with, given its opposition to the nuclear deal.
The readout from Cohen’s office said he also used the call to explain his approach to the Palestinians and emphasized his opposition to Palestinians’ effort to bring the conflict to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). He thanked Blinken for the Biden administration’s opposition to last week’s vote mandating the ICJ craft an opinion on the legal status of Israel’s “occupation.”
— Gili Getz #SaveMasaferYatta (@giligetz) January 2, 2023
Meanwhile, dozens of American Jews staged a protest Monday outside Israel’s embassy in Washington against Netanyahu’s new government. The demonstration was organized by the left-wing Americans for Peace Now group.
US President Joe Biden plans to dispatch National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to Jerusalem next month for meetings with senior members of the new Israeli government, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Friday.
The coalition’s policy plans for the West Bank have been a cause for concern in Washington, an official told The Times of Israel, adding that the Biden administration is particularly focused on maintaining prospects for a two-state solution by preventing further Israeli expansion in the West Bank, but that there is also unease regarding the impact the next government might have on Israel’s Arab and LGBTQ communities.
The official said dates for Sullivan’s visit have not been set and other matters are still unclear, but that he is expected to meet with Netanyahu, his National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, who the premier has reportedly tapped as point man for ties with the Biden administration.
Singing ‘Shir LaShalom,’ the song of peace outside the embassy. pic.twitter.com/wkKybmjqSa
— Americans for Peace Now (@PeaceNowUS) January 2, 2023
Israeli officials told Axios that Netanyahu hopes to use the meetings to discuss cooperation on Iran as well as the effort to coax Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Israel.
The report said Blinken may also follow Sullivan with his own visit to Israel in February.
The Israeli officials said that Sullivan’s visit could also lay the groundwork for Netanyahu to fly to Washington in February.