Sep 3, 2021 - World

Israeli PM tells U.S. Jewish leaders he'll lower tensions with Palestinians

Naftali Bennett visits the White House. Photo: Nicholas Kamm Kamm/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett assured the leaders of U.S Jewish organizations on Friday that he would take steps to reduce the conflict with the Palestinians.

Why it matters: Bennett holds hardline positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and opposes the two-state solution, but he also wants to show that he can make progress on the issue even without any political breakthrough.

  • Bennett's remarks follow Sunday's meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the first meeting between Abbas and an Israeli cabinet minister in many years.
  • After facing political pressure from the right over the meeting, Bennett tried to downplay its significance and even ruled out peace talks with the Palestinians.

In a 30-minute Zoom call with the Conference of Presidents of the Jewish organizations in North America on Friday, Bennett compared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to traffic accidents, saying it's impossible to eliminate them entirely but "it is possible to take steps to reduce the problem."

  • Bennett said he believes better economy and more dignity for Palestinians can improve the situation, two sources who were on the call say.
  • Yes, but: Bennett stressed that he didn't want to give the Palestinians the impression that a political breakthrough was coming because, "when it doesn’t happen the disappointment could lead to negative consequences." Instead, he emphasized stability and said he wouldn't take any radical steps.
  • Bennett also said he would not be meeting Abbas because of the lawsuit he filed against Israel in the International Criminal Court. “I come from the business world and if somebody sues me I am not going to be nice to him," Bennett said.

Meanwhile, Bennett also told the Jewish leaders that following his meeting with President Biden, the U.S. and Israel had formed a joint team to deal with countering Iran.

  • “The team will be headed by the national security advisors on both sides and will work on our two common goals — putting Iran back in the box and preventing it from breaking out to a nuclear weapon," Bennett said.
  • “I am against the nuclear deal but I understand where America stands. Instead of fighting all day about the nuclear deal I want to focus on the broader strategy against Iran," Bennet added.

What they're saying: “The Conference of Presidents hosted a very warm and productive conversation with Prime Minister Bennett this morning in advance of the Rosh Hashanah holiday. Given the long-standing relationship between the Conference of Presidents and the Prime Minister, the meeting was an open and meaningful exchange of views," William Daroff, the group's CEO said.

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