Jan 18, 2023 - World

Sullivan lands in Israel as Netanyahu's government faces possible political crisis

Jake Sullivan.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Photo: Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan landed in Israel on Wednesday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Why it matters: The talks are primarily aimed at reaching understandings with the new Israeli government on its policies concerning the Palestinians, Iran, and the process to normalize relations between Israel and other countries in the region, U.S. and Israeli officials say.

  • But the crisis facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, including protests over its plan to weaken the Supreme Court and other democratic institutions, is expected to come up during Sullivan's meetings in Jerusalem. The Biden administration has so far not indicated how much it wants to weigh in on the issue.
  • Sullivan landed in Israel just after the Israeli Supreme Court revoked the appointment of Aryeh Deri, a key Netanyahu ally, as a senior minister in the government.

State of play: The White House has expressed concern about the new Israeli government's policies in the occupied West Bank, including plans to expand settlements, legalize outposts and effectively annex the territory in a way that will make the two-state solution irrelevant.

  • Sullivan met with President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday. He will meet with Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials on Thursday. He is also expected to meet opposition leader Yair Lapid.
  • A U.S. official said the goal of Sullivan’s visit is to very clearly lay out what the U.S. expects from Netanyahu and the new government.
  • Sullivan will also lay out what the U.S. is willing to do to work with Netanyahu on issues like Iran and moving toward the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the official said.
  • "There are things that are important to Netanyahu and things that are important to us, and we will see if we can reach an agreement," the U.S. official told Axios.

Behind the scenes: Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s confidant and minister for strategic affairs, met Sullivan at the White House last week to lay the groundwork for the White House official's visit, U.S. and Israeli officials said.

  • The officials added that Dermer also met Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, with Secretary of State Tony Blinken making a drop in to the meeting.
  • Israeli and U.S. officials said both sides were in charm offensive mode after a history of tensions.
  • A source close to the White House said Netanyahu was not going to get a cold shoulder from the U.S. at the moment and Biden’s strategy and guidance to his advisers is “to work with him and use carrots and not sticks."

The big picture: Sullivan on Thursday will also travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

  • Tensions between the Palestinian Authority and Israel intensified earlier this month after the Israeli government imposed sanctions on the PA to retaliate against its push for the International Court of Justice to issue a legal opinion on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
  • Palestinian officials said the Palestinian leadership is extremely frustrated by the Biden administration’s policies and wants the U.S. to put pressure on the new Israeli government. The Biden administration on the other hand has expressed frustration over the Palestinian moves at the UN, which it sees as counterproductive.
  • On Tuesday, Abbas held a summit in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan's King Abdullah II. The king met Biden’s top Middle East adviser Brett McGurk ahead of the summit.
  • Palestinian officials said the goal of the summit was to coordinate positions with Jordan and Egypt in advance of Sullivan’s visit.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said Sullivan will discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the region, including the threat posed by Iran and progress in deepening normalization between Israel and some Arab states.

  • “He will further emphasize U.S. commitment to a two-state solution and opposition to any policies and practices that undermine its viability or that threaten the historic status quo in Jerusalem,” the spokesperson said.

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