Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday night departed Israel for the United States, ahead of his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
During his trip, Bennett will address world leaders for the first time since he became prime minister in June, and will also hold meetings with Gulf ministers and American Jewish community leaders. The trip is Bennett’s second official visit to the United States as prime minister. On August 27, Bennett met with US President Joe Biden at the White House.
Before getting on the plane to fly to New York, Bennett told reporters that the group of progressive Democrats who temporarily blocked funding for the Iron Dome this week are a vocal but small group.
“There is a small anti-Israeli group that makes a lot of noise but these people failed,” he said on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport.
“At the moment of truth, we saw the representatives of the American people overwhelmingly support Israel, 420 to 9, in the vote on rearming Iron Dome,” he said, referring to the bipartisan support in the US House for the $1 billion funding of the missile defense system.
The Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act passed 420-9 on Thursday with two Democrats, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Hank Johnson, effectively abstaining by voting “present.”
Bennett said he looks forward to telling the story of Israel and Israelis to the world in his speech to the UN General Assembly.
Turning to Iran and the Palestinians, Bennett said their leaders should focus on providing for their own people instead of “obsessing” over Israel.
“We do not define ourselves according to others, not according to Iran and not the Palestinians. I suggest that their leaders deal with their people, in improving their situation, and stop this obsession with the State of Israel,” he said.
Bennett’s address to the UN General Assembly — which is expected to focus heavily on Iran’s nuclear program — will take place on Monday, at 9 a.m. local time (4 p.m. Israel time), meaning that he will manage to squeeze in the speech less than three hours before the Shemini Atzeret holiday begins. Still, many Israelis will be more focused on holiday preparations than the prime minister’s speech.
Bennett’s spokesman has said he won’t be using any of the famous visual aids and props utilized by his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, in a subtle dig at the ex-premier.
Bennett will also meet with ministers from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. The meetings with Bahrain’s foreign minister and a minister of state affairs from UAE will be Bennett’s first talks with Gulf leaders since taking office in June.
The UAE was the first of four regional states who normalized ties with Israel last year.
The 2020 agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, also known as the Abraham Accords, broke with the longstanding Arab notion that there should be no normalization with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.
Bennett’s spokesman said that during the visit, the prime minister will also host a meeting with the heads of Jewish organizations, which he was largely unable to do during his trip to Washington, DC.
Meanwhile, Channel 12 news reported on Saturday that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Jordanian King Abdullah II met in secret last month at the crown palace in Amman. The two discussed “tensions in Jerusalem around the Temple Mount” and the need to strengthen relations between the two nations, the report said.
The Foreign Ministry declined the network’s request for comment.
Lapid’s reported trip was the latest in a series of high-level contacts between the countries after the swearing-in of Israel’s new government, following strained bilateral ties in recent years during the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu.
In July, Bennett met with Abdullah in secret at the crown palace in Amman, in the first summit between the countries’ leaders in over three years. President Isaac Herzog also met the Jordanian king last month, as did Defense Minister Benny Gantz in February.