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Bennett to Americans: We want stability, but not two states

CM 25/08/2021

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WASHINGTON – Israel will not negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is in office, a diplomatic source said on Wednesday.
Bennett is in Washington for a series of high-level meetings, culminating with a meeting in the White House with US President Joe Biden, in which he plans to focus on the Iranian threat.
The prime minister seeks to reach shared principles on countering Iran with Biden – preferably with a public statement – such as never letting Iran attain a nuclear weapon instead of just “not on my watch,” as Biden has said in the past.

Bennett’s goal for his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, set to take place after press time, was “for the Americans to understand that the prime minister’s line is to preserve stability, without taking reality-changing steps,” the source, a member of Bennett’s entourage in Washington, said.  
The current political situation precludes Bennett from taking major steps on the Palestinian front. His Yamina party and the other right-wing coalition partners oppose a Palestinian state, while Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and the political parties to his Left support a two-state solution, and therefore, they have all agreed to mostly preserving the status quo.
When it comes to settlements, the source referred to Bennett’s statement in an interview with The New York Times that “there will not be a building freeze, but there also will not be annexation.”
Asked about Bennett’s remark in that same interview that only “natural growth” will be allowed in settlements, the source said Bennett wants to “preserve the current situation.”
However, “natural growth” refers to construction only for people who already live in Judea and Samaria – such as new schools or homes for newly-married couples who grew up in the area – while the situation in recent years included limited construction beyond that.
US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meet in Rome last month. (credit: ANDREW HARNIK/POOL VIA REUTERS)US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meet in Rome last month. (credit: ANDREW HARNIK/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Bennett has been in constant contact with Jerusalem to get updates on the attacks by Hamas terrorists on Israel’s south.
US officials view the attacks as provocations and have demanded restraint from Hamas through the relevant channels, the diplomatic source said. 
Bennett is also expected to meet with with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan late Wednesday.
The prime minister plans to discuss US aid to equip the IDF to build up its forces to counter the threats Israel faces with all of his interlocutors.
That topic is likely to come up in the Bennett-Biden meeting, in relation to Iran, as well. The government sharply increased the IDF budget in order to fund its new Iran strategy.
The prime minister has a plan for countering the Iranian nuclear program and regional proxies, which he has said he will present to Biden. The plan prepares for the increasingly likely scenario that Iran and the US will not return to the 2015 Iran Deal, but also provides alternatives if they do.
Bennett plans to tell Biden that the costs of returning to the Iran deal at this point far outweigh its benefits, because Iran is much closer to reaching the sufficient quantity of enriched uranium for a bomb now than it was in 2015, and lifting sanctions would only fund their malign actions throughout the Middle East. 
Bennett met with AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr on Wednesday, as well, thanking him for AIPAC’s “strong support for Israel” and said he sees the organization’s activities as “a leading and central factor in strengthening Israel’s support in the US.”
They discussed the challenges Israel faces in the diplomatic, security and economic fields.
Kohr congratulated Bennett on his first visit with US President Joe Biden, set to take place on Thursday.
Ambassador to the US and UN Gilad Erdan accompanied Bennett to his meetings, in what is likely the last high-level visit Erdan will take part in as ambassador to the US. Erdan is set to be replaced by Mike Herzog, a retired IDF brigadier-general and brother of President Isaac Herzog, at the end of September or early October. 
Erdan has had a good relationship with Bennett going back to when they were both cabinet ministers, but tendered his resignation from the position in Washington because the ambassador is viewed as someone who must be close with the prime minister, and he was a personal appointee of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He plans to remain ambassador to the UN, which is a less politically-linked position.


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