Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met the United States National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for the highest level of in-person talks between the two allies since Israel inaugurated its most far-right, religiously conservative government in history last month.
Sullivan’s visit on Thursday came amid unease in Washington about Netanyahu’s policies and several members of his ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox governing coalition, which is already taking a hard line against the Palestinians and is expected to ramp up settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
Settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are regarded as illegal under international law and by much of the international community.
The Israeli government has already made its goals clear with the pronouncement that “the Jewish people have an exclusive right on all the land” between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Later on Thursday, Sullivan met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who appealed to the US President Joe Biden’s administration to stop the Israeli government from pressing ahead with escalating measures against the Palestinians.
The new Israeli coalition’s policies “are destroying the remaining chances of achieving peace and stability in the region”, Abbas told Sullivan, according to a statement from his office. He urged the US “to intervene before it is too late to stop these unilateral measures”.
The building of settlements will make the reality of an independent Palestinian state unviable. The Biden administration has reiterated it backs the two-state solution and has urged Israel not to expand its settlements.
In Jerusalem, a statement from Netanyahu’s office said the two discussed Iran’s nuclear programme and ways to broaden normalisation agreements reached under the administration of former President Donald Trump with four Arab countries.
The statement said the two discussed “the next steps to deepen the Abraham Accords and expand the circle of peace, with an emphasis on a breakthrough with Saudi Arabia”.
Sullivan told Netanyahu Biden’s “commitment to the state of Israel is bone deep”, a “commitment that’s rooted in shared history, shared interests and shared values”.
Israel’s new government has already proven to be a headache for the Biden administration, with far-right cabinet minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which has raised tensions and drawn condemnation from Palestinians and the Muslim world.
Netanyahu’s coalition has also taken combative steps against the Palestinian Authority (PA) that run counter to Biden’s efforts to boost US-Palestinian relations.
Netanyahu told Sullivan that the measures, including withholding badly needed tax revenues from the PA that Israel collects on its behalf, were in response to Palestine pushing the United Nations’s highest judicial body to give its opinion on the Israeli occupation.
From Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas stressed to Sullivan the importance of the US exerting pressure on Israel to halt its “daily killings and incursions into Palestinian cities and towns”.
Two Palestinians, one of them a teacher, were killed in an Israeli military arrest raid into the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on Thursday.
The year 2022 was the deadliest for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 2006, as Israel conducted near-daily military raids and the Gaza Strip faced three days of Israeli bombardment in August.
Abbas also called on Sullivan to restore the US consulate in Jerusalem that oversees American ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington, DC.
During his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Thursday, Sullivan “stressed that the administration will continue to support the two-state solution, and will discourage policies that endanger its viability”, said the White House National Security Council’s spokesperson Adrienne Watson.
US officials have previously voiced concerns about at least two far-right senior cabinet ministers, Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who have expressed vehement anti-Palestinian views in the past. Nonetheless, Washington has said it will engage with Netanyahu’s government based on its policies and not on personalities.
Ben-Gvir, a politicians known for anti-Palestinian racism and provocative stunts that have included brandishing a handgun in public, is the minister of national security, a powerful position that puts him in charge of Israel’s police force.
Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, which shares anti-Palestinian and anti-gay views, oversees the Israeli defence body in charge of Palestinian civil affairs.