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PM hails her 'voice of decency and reason'

Visiting US envoy to Bennett: Biden shares commitment to new ‘spirit of cooperation’

PM tells Linda Thomas-Greenfield her tour of Israel will contrast with what she hears at biased UN; ambassador visits Yad Vashem, meets with Herzog, Lapid and Michaeli

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield in Jerusalem on November 15, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield in Jerusalem on November 15, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield relayed US President Joe Biden’s commitment to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s stated “new spirit of cooperation” during her first visit to Israel on Monday, as the countries look to gloss over several disagreements that have complicated ties in recent months.

“President Biden shares Prime Minister Bennett’s commitment to a new spirit of cooperation as we address the full range of regional and global challenges together,” Thomas-Greenfield said in public remarks ahead of a meeting with Bennett.

The “new spirit of cooperation,” was a theme Bennett repeatedly focused on during a recent visit to Washington, referring both to the diverse coalition he heads, and ties with Washington after previously frosty relations between former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Democrat administrations.

Thomas-Greenfield is the first Biden cabinet member to visit Israel since the formation of Bennett’s new unity government last June. She landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Monday and spent the day in Jerusalem meeting with senior Israeli officials and visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Over the next four days, she will also make stops in Ramallah and Amman for meetings with Palestinian and Jordanian leaders.

Bennett used the opportunity to laud Thomas-Greenfield’s support for Israel at the UN amid what he termed as its bias against the Jewish state.

“There’s such a stark contrast between the reality on the ground here and what one might hear in the corridors of the United Nations,” Bennett told Thomas-Greenfield in public remarks ahead of their closed-door meeting. “I want to thank you for representing a voice of decency and reason in an institution, that I think we can both objectively say, is pretty biased in terms of its treatment of Israel.”

Bennett told the US envoy that he hopes she’ll gain a “better picture of the unique challenges that we’re facing here… with Iranian-backed terror groups across our borders.”

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield pays a visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (David Azagury/ US Embassy, Jerusalem)

Thomas-Greenfield is scheduled to tour Israel’s northern and southern borders with senior IDF brass in the coming days.

The UN envoy told also Bennett she looked forward to discussing ways to build on the Abraham Accords normalization agreements Israel signed with neighboring Arab states last year, along with advancing measures to support Israel-Palestinian peacebuilding.

Despite the commitment to close cooperation with Jerusalem, Thomas-Greenfield also hinted at several areas of possible tensions between Washington and Jerusalem.

“We believe Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve equal measures of freedom, prosperity, security, and dignity. This is important in its own right and as a means to advance prospects for a two-state solution,” Thomas-Greenfield said, repeating what likely is the most commonly used Biden administration talking point on the issue.

Washington wants to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem that served the Palestinians, but Bennett’s government has opposed this. The Biden administration is also unhappy with Israel advancing settlement projects deep within the West Bank, and has demanded clarifications from Israel regarding the recent blacklisting of six Palestinian NGOs.

During her meeting with Prime Minister Bennett, the two officials discussed “the deep and enduring ties between the US and Israel, our shared commitment to battle anti-Israel bias at the UN, and Iranian aggression in the region,” a statement from her office said.

Earlier in the day, the ambassador toured Yad Vashem, tweeting afterward that she was “deeply moved” by the visit.

Thank you to all those involved in creating this institution devoted to Holocaust remembrance and education and to combating Holocaust denial and distortion,” she wrote.

After her sit-down with Lapid, Thomas-Greenfield tweeted that she was “encouraged to hear about the tangible progress of the Abraham Accords,” adding that the Biden administration will continue to support such efforts.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield on November 15, 2021. (Asi Efrati/ GPO)

During his respective meeting with the UN ambassador at his residence, President Isaac Herzog thanked Thomas-Greenfield for “standing by Israel’s side at the United Nations, including during Operation Guardian of the Walls.”

Thomas-Greenfield blocked three consecutive Security Council statements calling for an immediate ceasefire and condemning violence by both sides, in what exposed the US to criticism from European allies. Ultimately though, it was the US-backed Egyptian ceasefire effort that brought an end to the May conflict with Palestinian terror groups in Gaza after 11 days.

President Isaac Herzog meets with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield at his residence in Jerusalem on November 15, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Herzog also told her that “Israel is interested in collaborating with the United States on promoting innovative environmental technologies.”

The US ambassador would later meet with Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, tweeting afterward that “Like @POTUS, [Michaeli] knows infrastructure is a national security issue. And I applaud her work to advance gender equality in all areas of society.”

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