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US envoy refuses to say whether he’ll meet with incoming far-right minister

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem on December 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90/File)
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem on December 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90/File)

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides declines to say whether he will meet with incoming national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

“I’m not going to get into who we’ll meet with and who [we won’t]. I don’t even know who the people are going to be,” Nides says during an interview with Channel 12.

“As Joe Biden said on the phone call, ‘Bibi, I’ve known you for 40 years. You’re my friend. I will work with you,” he continues. “I’m not going to get into individuals and who we will or won’t. I’m not going to speculate what Ben Gvir’s going to do — who we’ll meet with who we’re not going to meet with. What I’ll say is that I’ll spend time with this government, and I have a great relationship with this government.”

Nides also appears to deny reports that he tried to dictate who Israel’s next defense minister will be to prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I can’t tell Bibi Netanyahu what to do,” Nides tells Channel 12. “But that job is very important… I’ve made that very clear [to him].”

“We will work with whoever the prime minister puts in that job,” Nides says — a position that is easier for him to stake now that Netanyahu has declared that the defense minister position will be held by a member of his own party.

Smotrich, who supports annexing large parts of the West Bank, without granting equal rights to Palestinians in those areas, initially demanded to be defense minister post, but was ultimately rebuffed by Netanyahu. However, a coalition agreement reached earlier this evening revealed that Likud has agreed to grant authority over the Civil Administration, which governs civilian affairs in 60% of the West Bank, to a member of Smotrich’s party.

Nides adds the administration wants to preserve chances for a two-state solution and keep the current status quo on Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount, saying it will work with Jerusalem on those issues.

Washington does not support “conditioning aid” to Israel on anything, he also says.

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