US defense chief ‘disturbed’ by West Bank clashes, settler attacks; urges consensus on judicial changes

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin deliver a statement to the press at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) headquarters near the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin deliver a statement to the press at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) headquarters near the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Speaking at a press conference near Ben Gurion Airport, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says he discussed with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant the need to restore calm amid rising violence in the West Bank.

Austin says he told Gallant “about the need to deescalate and lower tensions and restore calm.”

The US defense chief says he is “disturbed” by moves that may increase tensions in the West Bank, as well as settler attacks against Palestinians.

“We also call on the Palestinian leadership to combat terrorism, resume coordination and condemn incitement,” Austin adds.

Speaking before Austin, Gallant says that “Israel seeks stability and security” in the West Bank and also works to improve “the well-being of the Palestinian people.”

“But this should never come at the expense of the life of a single citizen of Israel,” Gallant says. “In the face of terrorism we will be determined, concise, and powerful,” he adds.

Austin also notes Israel’s judicial overhaul, mass protests against which impacted his visit.

“I must make something very clear: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad and it’s going to stay that way,” Austin says. He says the relationship between the US and Israel is “rooted in the shared values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.”

Noting recent remarks from US President Joe Biden, Austin says Israel and the US “are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and a strong judiciary.”

“An independent judicial system is an important part of democracy. A broad consensus must be achieved for fundamental changes in the judicial system in order for them to remain sustainable,” he adds.

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