Bennett to New York Times: No to Iran, No to a Palestinian state

Ahead of his meeting with the U.S. president Thursday, the prime minister pushed his conciliatory approach to the administration even while continuing opposition to its policies.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said no to a return to the Iran nuclear deal, no to a Palestinian state, but yes to a more conciliatory relationship with Israel’s strongest ally in an interview with the New York Times published Wednesday.

In his first interview with a foreign press association since coming into office, and just one day ahead of his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, Bennett said that he was coming to Washington with a “new, strategic vision on Iran,” the report said. Although vague on the details, he did say the plan at least partially relied on Israel’s new standing in the region.

“What we need to do, and what we are doing, is forming a regional coalition of reasonable Arab countries, together with us, that will fend off and block this expansion and this desire for [Iranian] domination,” he said.

“Israel is here,” he added. “We are the precise anchor of stability, of willingness to do the job to keep this area safer.”

Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and normalized relations last year with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan through the Abraham Accords. Although Saudi Arabia has not yet signed on, Israel is widely considered to have quiet ties with Iran’s strongest opponent in the region.

Bennett said his plan also included potential Israeli action on the diplomatic and economic fronts, as well as continuing the efforts of Israel’s secret services in this sphere, dubbing them “the gray-area stuff.”

Iran has blamed Israel’s Mossad for a series of explosions and fires at various nuclear facilities and the assassination of its top nuclear scientists over recent years.

Although he is firmly opposed to Biden’s oft-stated desire to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which he has called “irrelevant” due to Iran’s latest quick advances in nuclear enrichment, Bennett told the paper he would approach the topic differently than his predecessor. Calling his administration “the good-will government” that is “reasonable with friends,” he told the paper that he would try to find common ground on Iran and would use Thursday’s meeting to set a softer tone in Israel’s relationship with the United States.

With his years-long hectoring opposition to the accords, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu angered many Democrats in Congress as well as the Obama-Biden administration that signed the deal with Iran.

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On the Palestinian front, however, Bennett could not see any progress being made. There will be no Palestinian state on his watch, he said, in part because “the Palestinian leadership is fractured and rudderless.” But peace talks are also a nonstarter because he knows they could break up his fragile coalition that runs the gamut from nationalist Jewish parties to left-wing and Arab ones.

“This government is a government that will make dramatic breakthroughs in the economy,” he said. “Its claim to fame will not be solving the 130-year-old conflict here in Israel.”