Secretary of State Blinken Calls New Israeli Foreign Minister, Raises Threats to Two-State Solution
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called new Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Monday to congratulate him on his appointment and discuss US-Israel relations as Israel’s hardline right-wing coalition comes into clearer focus.
The two discussed the US-Israel security partnership, the threat posed by Iran, and a gathering of the US, Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates dubbed The Negev Forum, which Israeli officials announced will reconvene in Morocco in March, according to the US readout of the call.
Cohen, who was Minister of Intelligence in the previous Netanyahu government, is expected to participate in that summit and play a key role in expanding the normalization agreements with Arab countries. Speaking to his Foreign Ministry colleagues for the first time on Monday before the call with Blinken, Cohen said that “the expansion of the agreements to include additional countries is not a question of if, but rather when.”
Netanyahu’s office said on Dec. 31 that UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed had congratulated the prime minister on the formation of a new government and that the two had agreed that Netanyahu would visit the UAE “soon.”
The US readout of Monday’s call between Blinken and Cohen also said that the two discussed “the continued U.S. commitment to a two-state solution and opposition to policies that endanger its viability.”
Similar language about shared US-Israeli values, support for the two-state solution, and Israeli policies that might undermine those positions has been repeated by US officials since Israel’s November elections returned the most right-wing government in Israeli history.
The inclusion of Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right Minister of National Security, in the coalition government has been of particular concern to US diplomats.
In November, the State Department condemned Ben-Gvir’s appearance at a memorial for Meir Kahane, the far-right, US-born Israeli parliamentarian assassinated in 1990. “Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent; there is no other word for it,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at the time. Kahane was convicted of terrorism-related offenses in both Israel and the US, and his political party and its successor organizations were designated by the US as terrorist organizations from 1997 until May 2022.
Ben-Gvir on Sunday announced that he intends to visit the Temple Mount, which a spokesman for Hamas, the Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist group, said would be explosively escalatory. Former Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Monday that if Ben-Gvir visits the Temple Mount, “people will die.”
In his speech at the Foreign Ministry Monday, Cohen called the US the “closest ally” of Israel and said that the relationship between the two countries was a priority.
“There is no substitute for Israel-US relations. It is a long-term strategic partnership based first and foremost on common values as well as on common interests,” Cohen said.
Cohen also said the new government intends to speak less in public about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but that humanitarian aid to Ukraine would continue.
Follow Algemeiner Washington Correspondent Andrew Bernard on Twitter @AndrewJBernie