In his first discussion with an international news organization as prime minister, Bennett told The New York Times major diplomatic moves in either direction were off the table for now.
https://www.jpost.com-By HALEY COHEN
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seen speaking at a press conference, on August 18, 2021.(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Two days ahead of his first meeting with President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he would neither annex West Bank territory nor permit it to become a Palestinian state and plans to expand the area’s Jewish settlements.
In his first discussion with an international news organization since succeeding Benjamin Netanyahu in June, Bennett, who is expected to arrive in Washington Tuesday night, told The New York Times in an interview published Tuesday that the left-to-right composition of his coalition government meant that major diplomatic moves in either direction are being called off for now.
“This government will neither annex nor form a Palestinian state, everyone gets that,” he said. “I’m prime minister of all Israelis, and what I’m doing now is finding the middle ground — how we can focus on what we agree upon.”
Netanyahu had considered annexation under the terms of a peace agreement advanced by the Trump administration but rejected by the Palestinians. Congressional Democrats, including some who are pro-Israel, fired back that annexing parts of the West Bank would significantly harm US-Israel relations.
Bennett vowed that his government would extend a longtime Israeli policy of “natural growth” in existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The settlements are a hot topic as critics consider them to be illegal under international law and an obstacle to the establishment of a future Palestinian state.
The Israeli chief executive went on to state that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but did not explicitly say whether he would attempt to block Biden’s plans to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem pledged to the Palestinians that had been shut down by the Trump administration.
The high-level meeting between Bennett and Biden is slated to take place on Thursday, five days before the latter’s August 31 deadline to finish the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, widely seen as Biden’s most significant foreign policy crisis since taking office on January 20.
Meanwhile, Israel’s leader reportedly hopes to focus on Iran, using the window of opportunity to convince Biden that there are better alternatives than rejoining the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Bennett will also meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, all of whom are closely working to evacuate remaining Americans from Afghanistan.
JTA contributed to this report.