31 Mar 2023, 09:08

Blinken affirms Israel ties, warns on peace after Netanyahu spat

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday pledged enduring ties with Israel but warned against inflaming tensions with the Palestinians, following a rare public spat between the allies.

President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters Tuesday, called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step back from a bid to weaken the judiciary that has set off massive protests.

Netanyahu, who at least temporarily froze the push faced with a general strike, responded that he would not bow to foreign pressure but took a more conciliatory tone when he participated in a democracy summit called by Biden.

In the highest level contact since the exchange, Blinken called Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and "reaffirmed the importance of the enduring US- Israel bilateral relationship," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said.

Blinken also discussed Iran, seen by Netanyahu as a paramount threat, and renewed US support for a Palestinian state -- an idea rejected by much of Netanyahu's hard-right government.

The top US diplomat "emphasized the importance of refraining from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions," Patel said in a statement.

Biden, who has known Netanyahu for decades, took office hoping to avoid a replay of the public feuding with the Israeli leader seen when he was Barack Obama's vice president.

But the State Department issued strong condemnation after Israel's parliament voted to annul a US-backed rule against certain settlements in the West Bank and denounced one of Netanyahu's ministers over remarks denying the existence of the Palestinian people.