Blinken warns Netanyahu against annexation of occupied West Bank | Occupied West Bank News

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged to oppose Israeli settlements or annexation in the occupied West Bank as former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to return to power.

Netanyahu has sealed a coalition deal with far-right and pro-settler parties, including Religious Zionism, after his right-wing coalition won the Nov. 1 elections.

Palestinians fear that more illegal settlements are likely to be built in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem under Netanyahu, who saw record settlement expansion during his 12-year tenure as prime minister through 2021.

Settlements are illegal under international law and seen as an obstacle to the realization of a future Palestinian state as part of the two-state solution.

Religious Zionism, which supports settlement expansion and opposes Palestinian statehood, has been assigned a post in the new coalition to oversee settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Speaking to J Street on Sunday, a left-leaning pro-Israel advocacy group in the United States, Blinken congratulated the veteran Israeli leader who has clashed with previous Democratic administrations in Washington.

“We will measure the government by the policies it pursues and not by individual personalities,” Blinken said.

But he said President Joe Biden’s administration will work “tirelessly” to maintain a “horizon of hope” for the creation of a Palestinian state, however bleak.

“We will continue to unequivocally oppose all actions that undermine the prospects for a two-state solution, including but not limited to settlement expansion, moves to annex the West Bank, disruption of the historical status quo of sacred sites, demolitions and evictions and incitement to violence,” Blinken said.

He said the Biden administration will insist on “core democratic principles, including respect for the rights of LGBTQ people and the equal administration of justice for all citizens of Israel.”

Far-right groups in Netanyahu’s coalition will include Noam, whose leader Avi Maoz is staunchly opposed to LGBTQ rights.

Netanyahu’s other coalition partner, the far-right Jewish Power Party, also supports settler expansion. Their leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir – who, until last year, was best known as the provocateur of the far-right Palestinian religious fringe group.

Ben-Gvir’s record includes a 2007 conviction of racial incitement against Palestinians and supporting terrorism and anti-LGBTQ activism.

He says he no longer advocates the expulsion of all Palestinians — only those he sees as “traitors” or “terrorists.” Until a few years ago, Ben-Gvir had in his living room a portrait of Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinian worshipers in a mosque in Hebron in 1994.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, told reporters the State Department has “strong reasons” to consider Ben-Gvir persona non grata and that the US government should consider not associating with other officials with extreme backgrounds deal with

“No Substitute” for Peace

The Nov. 1 elections were Israel’s fifth in less than four years and came after the collapse of Lapid’s diverse coalition trying to keep scandal-plagued Netanyahu out.

Any new Israeli attempts to conquer the occupied West Bank could go against promises Netanyahu made in 2020 to the United Arab Emirates, which became the first Arab state to recognize Israel in decades.

Netanyahu and the administration of then US President Donald Trump welcomed the so-called Abraham Accords as a key achievement.

Three other Arab nations quickly followed to discuss ties with Israel, whose trade links with the UAE have skyrocketed over the past two years.

Blinken received some of the biggest applause from J Street, saying, “For all its benefits, normalization between Israel and its neighbors is no substitute for building peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

“I know a lot of people are disillusioned; a lot of people are frustrated,” said Blinken.

“We’ve been trying to get to a two-state solution for decades, and yet we seem to have gotten even further from that goal,” he said.

But he warned against “falling into cynicism” and continuing to work for peace.

The US has not made any significant diplomatic effort to negotiate a two-state solution since Barack Obama’s presidency, with officials in the Biden administration privately skeptical of reaching an agreement with Netanyahu.

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