Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. will not shrink from its unwavering support for Israel despite stark differences with Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu and concerns the Biden administration may have about potential members of his incoming right-wing government.
Speaking to a left-leaning group that some on the right accuse of being too sympathetic to the Palestinians and Iran, Blinken said the United States will remain a stalwart friend of Israel even as it pursues goals that Netanyahu has opposed, including a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a restoration of the languishing 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The partnership, he said, “has never been stronger than it is today.”
Blinken said the Biden administration would engage with Netanyahu’s government based on its policies and not on personalities, including potential senior Cabinet ministers who have expressed vehement anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab views in the past.
But, Blinken also warned that the U.S. would object to policies that marginalize the Palestinians or make a two-state resolution more difficult and would be detrimental to Israel’s long-term security or future as a Jewish democratic state.
“We expect the new Israeli government to continue to work with us to advance our shared values,” he said. “We will engage the government by the policies it pursues, rather than individual personalities.”
U.S. officials have expressed concerns about the possible positions in Netanyahu’s government of at least two right-wing Israeli politicians: Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
Ben-Gvir, a lawmaker known for anti-Arab vitriol and provocative stunts, has been offered the job of national security minister, a powerful position that will put him in charge of Israel’s police force. Meanwhile, Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, which shares anti-Palestinian and anti-gay views, has been offered oversight over the Israeli agency for Palestinian civil affairs.
Blinken noted that the U.S.-Israel relationship is seven decades old and the Biden administration would “speak honestly” with the new Israeli government as well as the Palestinians, whose leaders he said must also refrain from raising tensions that endanger a two-state solution.
He pointed out that the Biden administration continues to support its predecessor’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and is working to expand former President Donald Trump’s “Abraham Accords” that saw several Arab nations normalize relations with Israel. He lauded the recent completion of a maritime border accord between Israel and Lebanon.
Blinken’s comments came at the annual conference of J Street, a pro-Israel group that has distinguished itself from the much larger and older American Israel Public Affairs Committee by advancing positions supported by the Democratic party.