Blinken affirms Israel ties, warns on peace after Netanyahu spat
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday pledged enduring ties with Israel but warned against inflaming tensions with the Palestinians, following a rare public spat between the allies.
President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters Tuesday, called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step back from a bid to weaken the judiciary that has set off massive protests.
Netanyahu, who at least temporarily froze the push faced with a general strike, responded that he would not bow to foreign pressure but took a more conciliatory tone when he participated in a democracy summit called by Biden.
In the highest level contact since the exchange, Blinken called Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and “reaffirmed the importance of the enduring US-Israel bilateral relationship,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said.
Blinken also discussed Iran, seen by Netanyahu as a paramount threat, and renewed US support for a Palestinian state — an idea rejected by much of Netanyahu’s hard-right government.
The top US diplomat “emphasized the importance of refraining from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions,” Patel said in a statement.
Cohen, in a statement on Twitter, said he talked about “the judicial reform”, among other topics, adding that “our relationship with the United States is one of the pillars of our foreign policy.”
“We will continuously work to strengthen the dialogue with this great ally”, Cohen added.
Biden, who has known Netanyahu for decades, took office hoping to avoid a replay of the public feuding with the Israeli leader seen when he was Barack Obama’s vice president.
But the State Department expressed strong condemnation after Israel’s parliament voted to annul a US-backed rule against certain settlements in the West Bank, and denounced one of Netanyahu’s ministers over remarks denying the existence of the Palestinian people.
A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had spoken to several US government officials after Biden said he hoped the Israeli government would abandon its judicial reform or find a compromise with the opposition.
He said he was confident that Biden’s comments did not reflect the US administration’s position.
After three months of tensions that split the nation triggered protests by tens of thousands and a general strike, Netanyahu on Monday announced a “pause” for dialogue on the proposed reforms.
The reforms would curtail the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians greater powers over the selection of judges.
The government, a coalition between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, argues they are needed to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.