US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan visits Israel

Top official set to meet leaders of Israel’s new far-right government

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a daily briefing at the White House last month. AP
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White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan arrived in Israel on Wednesday as part of the Biden administration's first overture to the new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu leads a far-right coalition that includes several right-wing extremists who have openly discussed their desire to annex the West Bank — a move that would end any hopes for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Mr Sullivan would emphasise Washington's “commitment to a two-state solution and our opposition to any policies or practices that would undermine the viability of that solution, or that would threaten the historic status quo in Jerusalem”.

In addition, Mr Kirby said Mr Sullivan would reaffirm the US “commitment” to Israel’s security and discuss the threat posed by Iran.

Mr Netanyahu’s new government includes several high-profile cabinet ministers who have expressed extremist views.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog hosted Mr Sullivan in Jerusalem. Hovering over the discussions were the new government’s policy changes that directly conflict with President Joe Biden’s efforts to improve the lives of Palestinians and hold back Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

“You are coming at the right time, as we meet so many challenges together,” Mr Herzog said to Mr Sullivan, who noted that Mr Biden wants to visit Israel again after his first trip as President last summer.

Israel swears in new right-wing government — in pictures

Mr Netanyahu’s new government has laid bare the deep divisions between the US and its top ally in the Middle East, as both countries grapple with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the threat of Israel’s archrival Iran.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Aryeh Deri, leader of the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who was set to serve as interior and health minister in the new cabinet, was ineligible due to previous convictions for bribery and fraud.

Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir was convicted of incitement to racism over his support of a right-wing extremist movement in 2007.

One of Mr Ben-Gvir’s first acts as minister was to tour Al Aqsa Mosque compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam. His visit sparked outrage and raised concerns over how the new hardline government would approach relations with Palestinians.

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party and minister of finance, is also in charge of Israel's policies in the West Bank.

Mr Smotrich has long advocated annexing large portions of the West Bank, which would violate international law and essentially deny Palestinians the territory agreed to during the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The new government has sparked division at home and abroad.

More than 70,000 people protested against the government at the weekend in Tel Aviv, a seaside city known as a liberal and secular enclave.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: January 18, 2023, 8:49 PM
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