Meet Blinken, Israel’s Top Diplomat Aims to Correct Netanyahu’s ‘Mistakes’

ROME – Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday as the Biden administration takes stock of Israel’s new government following the departure of the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two discussed Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians and international talks aimed at bringing Iran and the United States back to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, about which Mr Lapid said Israel had “serious reservations”.

But Mr Lapid adopted an overall warm tone in brief remarks at the start of his meeting with Mr Blinken, their first since the new Israeli government came to power on June 13, saying he hoped to make amends. damage suffered under Mr. Netanyahu to Israel’s position among the Democrats in Washington.

“Over the past few years, mistakes have been made,” said Lapid. “Israel’s bipartisan position has been hurt. We will correct these errors together.

Speaking of differences over Iran, perhaps the main source of tension between Democrats and Mr. Netanyahu, he added: “We believe that the way to discuss these disagreements is through a direct and professional conversation, not through a professional conversation. press conference.

“As the closest friends do, we’ll have occasional disputes,” Blinken replied. “We have the same goals. Sometimes we differ in tactics.

It was not the first time that Mr Lapid has called for restoring relations with a Democratic party that now controls Congress and the White House. After his swearing-in this month, he admitted that many Democrats were “angry” with Israel and said, “We have to change the way we work with them.”

Mr Lapid is only part of his country’s motley governing coalition, however, and he does not necessarily speak for his more conservative prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who shares many of Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing views.

Mr Bennett took office this month on a belligerent note regarding Iran, saying the work to fix the 2015 nuclear deal “is a mistake that will once again give legitimacy to one of the most violent and dark regimes in the world ”.

Under the deal, world powers lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for time-limited restrictions on its nuclear program.

Mr. Bennett added: “Israel is not a party to the agreement and will retain complete freedom of action.

Steven Simon, who served as senior director of the National Security Council for the Middle East and North Africa at the Obama White House, said the divisions that have arisen between Democrats and Mr. Netanyahu – fueled by his enthusiastic embrace of President Donald J. Trump – would not be smoothed out easily by a change of face within Israel’s leadership.

“There are fundamental differences that have arisen in the relationship that will be difficult to reverse, especially as US politics become more and more polarized,” said Simon, now professor of international relations at Colby College. “I think it will be difficult under foreseeable circumstances for Israel to regain the wall-to-wall loyalty of the Democratic Party.”

Last week, 73 House Democrats signed a letter calling on President Biden to do more to overturn key elements of what they called “Mr. Trump’s abandonment of long-standing bipartisan US policy” towards Israel and the Palestinians. This included the official withdrawal of Mr. Trump’s plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and the quashing of a State Department legal opinion that called Israeli settlements “incompatible with international law.”

Mr Blinken met Mr Lapid last month in Israel following the ceasefire that ended a 10-day conflict between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas, sparked by violence in Israel between Arabs and Jews.

During their meeting, Mr. Blinken reiterated American concerns to Mr. Lapid regarding specific Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, including the demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem to make way for new Jewish settlements and Israel’s management of the Temple Mount, which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and which houses the sacred Al Aqsa Mosque.

Mr. Blinken also urged Mr. Lapid to find ways to accelerate the slow pace of humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in Gaza, which was badly damaged during the conflict in May. Israeli and US officials say Hamas militants, with whom they refuse to work directly, have made this process more difficult.

The May 20 ceasefire was tested this month when the Israeli government, days after taking power, carried out airstrikes in Gaza after incendiary balloons had floated across southern Israel since then. the isolated Palestinian territory.

Seeing no real prospect of a peace deal for the foreseeable future, Mr. Biden made no effort to revive an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which effectively died under the Trump administration.

Mr Blinken said the United States “strongly” supports the normalization agreements, negotiated at the end of the Trump administration and known as the Abrahamic Accords, which Israel entered into with several Arab states, and said he hoped they could be extended to other nations.

But he added that “as vital as they are, they are not a substitute for engagement on issues between Israelis and Palestinians that need to be resolved.”

Mr. Lapid has become something of an Israeli envoy to the main democrats. He spoke by phone last week with Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Gilad Erdan, who was appointed by Mr. Netanyahu this year, informed Mr. Bennett that he would step down once a replacement is appointed or when his term is scheduled. will expire in November. Mr. Erdan, an ally of Netanyahu, intends to continue in his other role as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Rome is the third stop on Mr. Blinken’s week-long trip to Western Europe, following meetings with heads of government in Germany and Paris. France and Germany have greeted Mr Biden’s top diplomat effusively, showing palpable relief at the end of the Trump era.

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