US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed to oppose Israeli settlements or annexation of the West Bank, while former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to return to power.
Netanyahu has signed a coalition agreement with right-wing and mainstream parties, including Religious Zionism, after his right-wing coalition won the November 1 election.
Palestinians fear that more illegal housing could be built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem under the leadership of Netanyahu, who has seen the population increase during his 12 years as prime minister until 2021.
The settlement is considered illegal under international law and is seen as an obstacle to the realization of a future Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.
Religious Zionism, which supports settlement expansion and opposition to the Palestinian Authority, has been given responsibility for overseeing settlements in the West Bank that are part of the new deal.
Speaking to J Street on Sunday, a left-wing pro-Israel group in the United States, Blinken paid tribute to the former Israeli leader, who clashed with previous Democratic administrations in Washington.
“We will test the government by the policies it is following and not by personality,” said Blinken.
But he said President Joe Biden’s administration will work “relentlessly” to maintain “hope,” even if diminished, for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“We will continue to unequivocally oppose anything that hinders the two-state solution, including the expansion of settlements, the further development of the West Bank, the destruction of historic holy sites, demolitions and deportations, and incitement to violence,” said Blinken.
He said the Biden administration would insist on “core democratic principles, including respect for the rights of LGBTQ people and the administration of justice for all Israeli citizens.”
Right-wing parties in Netanyahu’s coalition include Noam, whose leader Avi Maoz is strongly opposed to LGBTQ rights.
Another of Netanyahu’s coalition partners, the far-right Jewish Power party, also supports the expansion of the settlement. Their leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir – who until last year was well-known as a critic of the right-wing Palestinian religion.
Ben-Gvir’s record includes a 2007 conviction for advocating discrimination against Palestinians and supporting terrorism, as well as being anti-LGBTQ.
He says he is no longer advocating the deportation of all Palestinians – only those he considers “rebels” or “terrorists”. Until a few years ago, Ben-Gvir had a picture in his living room of Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Palestinian worshipers at a Hebron mosque in 1994.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, told reporters that the State Department has a “strong case” for considering Ben-Gvir persona non grata and that US officials should consider not dealing with other officials from troubled countries.
‘There is no substitute’ for peace
The November 1 election was Israel’s fifth in less than four years and came after the collapse of Lapid’s diverse coalition that had tried to unseat the disgraced Netanyahu.
Any new attempt by Israel to occupy the occupied West Bank could contradict Netanyahu’s 2020 promises to the United Arab Emirates, which became the first Arab country to recognize Israel in years.
Netanyahu and the administration of then-US President Donald Trump praised the so-called Abraham Accords as very important.
Three other Arab countries quickly followed up with talks on relations with Israel, whose trade ties with the UAE have grown significantly over the past two years.
Drawing on J Street’s handshake, Blinken said, “For all its good, stability between Israel and its neighbors is no substitute for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“I know that many people are disappointed; many people are disappointed,” said Blinken.
“We’ve been trying to find a two-government solution for years but it seems we’ve come a long way from that goal,” he said.
But he warned not to “give in to cynicism” and continue to promote peace.
The U.S. has not taken any legislative action to reach a bilateral agreement since the Barack Obama administration, while Biden administration officials are privately skeptical that they will be able to reach any deal with Netanyahu.