Blinken does not rule out dealing with far-right figures in new Israeli government

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Reuters)

Sean Mathews

Middle East Eye  /  December 5, 2022

US secretary of state says Washington will judge next Israeli government on policies, not personalities.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the Biden administration will judge Israel’s incoming far-right and extreme Zionist government based on its policies and not the people comprising it.

“We will gauge the government by the policies and procedures, rather than individual personalities,” Blinken said in his address to the J Street National Conference in Washington on Sunday.

“We will hold to the… standards we’ve established in our relationship over the past several decades. And we will speak honestly and respectfully with our Israeli friends as partners always should.”

Blinken’s comments indicate the US will not immediately rule out engaging with controversial figures in the government expected to be formed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who has allied himself with far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

Both men are slated to secure positions in a future government that would allow them to push through far-right and ultra-Zionist views such as annexing large swaths of the occupied West Bank, expanding illegal settlements, and allowing Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Bezalel Smotrich has been tapped to become finance minister and will be placed within Israel’s Defence Ministry, giving him oversight of settlements inside the illegally occupied West Bank. The post gives him authority over building permits in settlements, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and land issues. He will also oversee two military units in charge of running civilian and security affairs in the occupied West Bank.

Ben Gvir is set to become National Security minister, with oversight of police and the force that controls security at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Oppose annexation

Last month, US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides refused to state whether or not he would meet far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir. The diplomat, however, said the US would resist any efforts by Israel to officially annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

In his remarks at J-Street, Blinken reiterated the US opposition, stating: “We will also continue to unequivocally oppose any acts that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution, including, but not limited to, settlement expansion; moves toward annexation of the West Bank; disruption to the historic status quo of holy sites; demolitions and evictions; and incitement to violence.”

Blinken also criticized the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), and efforts to hold Israel accountable at the United Nations.

Last week, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Al-Nakba, the catastrophe in Arabic, a term used to describe the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the lead-up to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. 

Another adopted resolution called for a “halt to all settlement activities, land confiscation and home demolitions, for the release of prisoners and for an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions”. Another resolution called for Israel to rescind its control over the occupied Golan Heights.

Blinken noted the Biden administration’s support for the Abraham Accords and deepening Israel’s integration in the region. In October, the Biden administration negotiated a historic maritime deal between Israel and Lebanon.

Analysts, however, have cautioned that Netanyahu’s reliance on far-right and ultra-Zionist allies in government could complicate efforts to expand normalization.

Aziz Alghashian, a Riyadh-based expert on Israeli-Gulf ties, told Middle East Eye for an earlier article that while he doesn’t see a downgrading of Israel’s current relations with Gulf states, “it’s now more difficult for others to jump on the bandwagon”.