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Blinken to visit Israel next week, in second trip by senior US official this month

Secretary of state will meet with Israeli leadership on Monday and Palestinian leadership on Tuesday, as Washington seeks understandings with Netanyahu’s new hardline government

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021 (Haim Zach / GPO)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021 (Haim Zach / GPO)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel and the West Bank next week for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leadership, a Palestinian official said Monday.

Blinken is slated to hold meetings in Israel on Monday before traveling to the West Bank on Tuesday to sit down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his top aides, the official told The Times of Israel Monday.

The timeline for the trip was first reported by Haaretz. A US official confirmed Blinken’s travel plans to The Times of Israel earlier this month, but without a date.

Blinken will be the second senior Biden administration official to visit Israel this month, arriving less than two weeks after White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

The US official told The Times of Israel earlier this month that the high-level meetings in quick succession are aimed at gaining an understanding of government’s plans vis-a-vis the West Bank while making clear the administration’s red lines on issues relating to the Palestinians, including the importance of maintaining calm at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount holy site.

Iran’s nuclear program will also likely be a top agenda item in meetings with Israeli officials. Biden officials have said combating the Iran nuclear threat is a top priority in their talks with Israeli counterparts and Netanyahu has indicated that the issue will be a top foreign policy priority for him.

The Biden administration has been remiss to articulate an updated stance on Iran since turning its attention away from negotiating a possible return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as talks fell apart.

The government’s controversial push to significantly limit the power of the judicial branch may also figure into the meetings.

Earlier this month, Sullivan used his meeting with Netanyahu to inquire about the overhaul announced earlier this month by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the US official said.

Sullivan warned Netanyahu that the sweeping plans, which have sparked mass protests throughout the country, risked harming ties with the US, Channel 12 reported. The channel claimed that Netanyahu assured the Americans that the coalition will pass a more watered-down version of what was announced.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told The Times of Israel last week that the Biden administration would not interfere in the specifics of the proposals that Netanyahu’s hardline right-wing government seeks to advance.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meets with President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, January 18, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

However, US officials will still talk with their Israeli counterparts about “shared values and the importance of strong democratic institutions,” Nides said.

A strong Israeli democracy “gives us the ability to defend Israel at the UN,” he added, highlighting a point used by government critics that targeting the court system will hamper Jerusalem’s ability to defend itself against international tribunals, which are generally only used for places where there is no independent judiciary.

On Monday, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the US “strongly support[s] freedom of assembly,” when asked for Washington’s position on ongoing mass protests in Israel against the planned judicial overhaul.

Protesters against the proposed changes to the justice system at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, on January 21, 2023 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

On Saturday night, some 100,000 demonstrators rallied against the plan in Tel Aviv, and 50,000 more held protests elsewhere, organizers said.

“We look forward to working with Israel to advance the interests and values that have been at the heart of our relationship for decades, and that includes an equal administration of justice [for] all of those who live in Israel,” Price added.

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