Lapid heads to Washington for high-level talks, amid friction between Israel and US

Opposition leader to sit down with Blinken, national security adviser and other officials; in interview, he blames Netanyahu for ‘collapse’ in ties, fears it may be irreversible

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (R) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meet in Tel Aviv on November 30, 2023. (Saul Loeb/Pool/AFP)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (R) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meet in Tel Aviv on November 30, 2023. (Saul Loeb/Pool/AFP)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid was headed to Washington late Saturday for talks with top officials, his party said, as tensions between the two governments grow over Israel’s handling of the war against Hamas.

Lapid is expected to meet Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and other officials, his centrist Yesh Atid party said on X.

US President Joe Biden has stood by Israel through six months of devastating fighting triggered by Hamas’s October 7 terror attack but the killing of seven aid workers in an Israeli airstrike earlier this week appears to have brought him the closest yet to a breaking point.

In a tense 30-minute telephone call with Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, Biden told the premier that the strike was “unacceptable” and called for an “immediate ceasefire.”

The two men discussed “the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers,” the White House said afterward.

It added that Biden “made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action.”

US President Joe Biden speaks about the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after it was struck by the container ship Dali, in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 5, 2024. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

Even before the killing of the aid workers, Washington had voiced concern over Israel’s plans for a ground offensive in the far-southern city of Rafah, which is crammed with 1.5 million civilians, many of them displaced from other parts of Gaza.

Israeli officials insist an assault is crucial to its goal of eliminating the Hamas terror group, and have said that civilians would evacuated from the city, but have yet to provide details on where they are meant to go.

During his visit, Lapid will also meet with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who last month called for a snap election in Israel to give voters a chance to get rid of Netanyahu, whom he described as one of the “major obstacles” to peace.

The prime minister dubbed Schumer’s comments “totally inappropriate,” insisting: “We’re not a banana republic.”

Speaking to Channel 12 news on Saturday, Lapid blamed Netanyahu for what he called a “collapse” in relations with Washington and said it was questionable if the ties could even be fully repaired by future governments.

He argued the rift could have been prevented and noted that some of Israel’s traditionally fiercest Democratic allies have joined in the criticism, naming Schumer, as well as former House speaker Nancy Pelosi who on Friday joined a call among Democrats to halt arms sales to Israel.

Lapid said that arguments with the US should be held in “closed-door” conversations. “In front of cameras, don’t have these arguments,” he said.

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