Top Biden aide set to visit Israel amid fears over Netanyahu’s plans for West Bank

Jake Sullivan expected to meet with PM, Israeli counterpart Hanegbi and former envoy Dermer as Washington works to prevent expanding settlements, legalizing outposts

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Sept. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Sept. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US President Joe Biden plans to dispatch National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to Jerusalem next month for meetings with senior members of the new Israeli government, an official familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The new government that was sworn in Thursday is the most right-wing in Israeli history and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has signed agreements with coalition partners that included pledges to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank, legalize dozens of wildcat outposts and pass legislation that would allow businesses to refuse service to certain customers on the basis of their religious conscience.

Likud also agreed in principle to annex large parts of the West Bank in its deal with the far-right Religious Zionism party, but the deal includes a clause giving Netanyahu an effective veto, which he is likely to maintain as he seeks a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.

The coalition’s plans have been a cause for concern in Washington, an official told The Times of Israel, confirming a report in the Axios news site. The official said the Biden administration is most focused on maintaining prospects for a two-state solution by preventing further Israeli expansion in the West Bank but that there is also unease regarding the impact the next government might have on Israel’s Arab and LGBTQ communities.

The official said dates for Sullivan’s visit haven’t been set and other matters are still unclear but that he is expected to meet with Netanyahu, his National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, who the premier has reportedly tapped as point man for ties with the Biden administration.

Israeli officials told Axios that Netanyahu hopes to use the meetings to discuss cooperation on Iran as well as the effort to coax Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Israel.

The report said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken may also follow Sullivan with his own visit to Israel in February.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets then-US vice president Joe Biden upon his arrival to the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (Debbie Hill, Pool, via AP)

The Israeli officials said that Sullivan’s visit could lay the groundwork for Netanyahu to fly to Washington in February.

Biden congratulated Netanyahu on forming a government Thursday, saying that he looks forward to working with him to advance Israel’s integration in the region, to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians and to address the threat posed by Iran.

“The United States will continue to support the two-state solution and to oppose policies that endanger its viability or contradict our mutual interests and values,” Biden added, expressing a policy that will likely be at odds with the new government plans in the West Bank.

The Biden administration has not stated whether it will work with some of the Netanyahu government’s most far-right members, such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Deputy Minister Avi Maoz.

Earlier this month, Blinken warned Israel against annexation, settlement expansion and evictions of Palestinians, but said Washington was prepared to work with the new government, adding that it would judge it based on its policies, not personalities.

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