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US Secretary of State vows to judge Netanyahu’s next government based on its policies, not personalities

Blinken’s remarks contrast reports indicating the Biden administration will hesitate to work with far-right hardliners in key positions

Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks at the J Street National Conference in Washington, DC., Dec. 4, 2022. (Photo: Ron Przysucha/US State Department)

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a liberal Jewish group on Sunday that the Biden administration will engage with Israel’s incoming right-wing government based on its policies and not the individuals that constitute it. 

“We will gauge the government by the policies it pursues rather than individual personalities,” Blinken said in a keynote speech at the J Street National Conference in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

“We will hold it to the mutual standards we have established in our relationship over the past seven decades. And we will speak honestly and respectfully with our Israeli friends, as partners always should,” the secretary said. 

Blinken’s remarks go against earlier reports which claimed the U.S. administration might not be willing to work with hardliner elements in Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaping government. Such reports alluded to far-right Otzma Yehudit [“Jewish Power”] chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, who is slated to become police minister with expanded authorities, and Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, who will oversee the government’s civilian activities in Samaria and Judea. 

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides refused to say whether he would meet with Ben Gvir, the Times of Israel reported.

“As President Biden told Mr. Netanyahu when he called to congratulate him, we expect the new Israeli government to continue to work with us to advance our shared values, just as we have [with] previous governments,” Blinken said. In that respect, Blinken emphasized core democratic principles, “including respect for the rights of the LGBT community and the equal administration of justice for all citizens of Israel.” 

Blinken’s statement followed Israel’s incoming deputy minister, Avi Maoz, saying he wants to ban the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, calling it an “abomination.”

Despite Maoz’s statement, Netanyahu pushed back against the ultra-religious voices in his coalition last week, insisting that “Israel is not going to be governed by Talmudic law.” 

“We’re not going to ban LGBT forums,” Netanyahu said, specifically. “As you know, my view on that is sharply different, to put it mildly.”

In his J Street speech, Blinken hailed the U.S.-Israel partnership and its benefits for the two nations and the world, saying it “has always been underwritten by the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, a commitment that has never been stronger than it is today.”

Blinken highlighted that, “under President Biden, the United States is providing $3.3 billion annually in foreign military financing to Israel, as well as another $500 million in funding for missile defense – more than at any time in the history of our relationship.”

“No peace is possible or sustainable without a strong, secure Israel,” Blinken said.

He reiterated the Biden administration’s support for a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite acknowledging that many people feel “disillusioned” and “frustrated” by it. 

“We’ve been trying to get to a two-state solution for decades, and yet it seems that we’ve only gotten further away from that goal. But we cannot afford to give up hope,” the secretary said. “The reality is that, today, Palestinians and Israelis do not enjoy equal measures of freedom, security or opportunity.”

Blinken added that the Biden administration will continue to unequivocally oppose any acts that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution, “including, but not limited to, [Jewish] settlement expansion; moves toward [Israeli] annexation of the West Bank; disruption to the historic status quo at holy sites; demolitions and evictions; and incitement to violence.” 

Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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