WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday met President Joe Biden a day after a deadly bomb attack on the US Afghanistan evacuation mission forced a postponement and cast a shadow on an Israeli charm offensive.
The US had an “unwavering commitment” to Israel’s security, including replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, Biden said after the two met one-on-one, a day after originally planned.
In a hint at differences of opinion, he added, “we’re also going to discuss ways to advance peace and security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians”.
Bennett began his remarks with condolences before announcing, “I bring with me from Jerusalem a new spirit of good will.”
Bennett, who aims to reboot relations, says: ‘I bring with me from Jerusalem a new spirit of goodwill’
Bennett had aimed to reboot US-Israel relations following Benjamin Netanyahu, who during 15 years in office embraced Republicans and antagonised Democrats.
Still, the 49-year-old premiere in his first official overseas visit kept to many of his predecessor’s hardline views.
“We cannot lose sight for even one moment that we’re in the toughest neighborhood in the world,” he said, citing militant Islamic State (IS) group, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas. “That’s why Israel always has to be overwhelmingly stronger than... all of our enemies combined.”
A broader meeting was expected to follow including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata and Israeli Ambassador to Israel Gilad Erdan, along with Bennett’s senior aide Shimrit Meir.
Bennett took office in June as head of an eclectic coalition in which his hawkish party holds only a handful of seats. His government includes pro-settlement hardliners like himself as well as political doves and the first Arab party to sit in a coalition.
“He heads and leads the most diverse government in Israeli history,” Biden said of Bennett.
Bennett’s positions on key issues remain at odds with the White House.
He has said he will continue settlement construction and is against a Palestinian state in territories Israel captured in 1967.
He opposes the US reopening a consulate in Jerusalem to handle Palestinian affairs, which Trump shut in 2019 after moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In Washington Bennett strove to highlight common ground.
“Israel knows that we have no better or more reliable ally in the world than the United States of America,” he said.
Bennett said in the Oval Office that the bombings in Kabul highlighted the potential danger of a nuclear Iran.
“These very days illustrate what the world would look like if a radical Islamic regime acquired a nuclear weapon,” Bennett told Biden.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2021