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Foreign Minister Yair Lapid travels to Washington to discuss Iran, Abraham Accords and to rebuild bipartisan support

What’s happened: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is in Washington meeting with senior Democrat leaders and government officials.

  • Last night he met with Vice President Kamala Harris. He described Harris as “one of the best friends Israel has in Washington,” adding: “Even when we have differences, I know that our goal is common, which is to see Israel strong, secure, and thriving.”
  • Lapid said: “We also believe that the Palestinians are entitled to quality of life, an economy, education, and hope.”
  • Lapid also met yesterday with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then with National Security Adviser (NSA) Jake Sullivan, where the focus was on Iran. Lapid relayed Israel’s concerns over Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state.
  • Lapid said: “We need to unite around the idea that we want to expand and deepen the circle of peace. We need and can unite around the basic principle that Israel has a right to defend itself, and Palestinians deserve a better life. We can all unite around the idea that we will never allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold country.”
  • NSA Sullivan reaffirmed: “President Biden’s commitment to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.”
  • Relating to the Gaza Strip, Lapid presented his ‘Economy for Security Plan’.
  • Also yesterday, Israel signed an agreement to double the amount of water it provides to Jordan. Israel will now sell an additional 50 million cubic meters of water a year to Jordan. Commenting on the deal, Lapid said: ”This is what good neighbours do, in line with Israel’s policy of connections with other countries. It’s another step forward in the cooperation between Israel and Jordan in tackling our joint challenges.”

Context: A central tenant of the new Israeli government’s foreign policy is to rebuild bipartisan support for Israel in the US.

  • Similarly, Israel’s outreach to Jordan, one of the world’s most water-deficient countries in the world, is also part of the government’s policy of strengthening their strategic regional relationships.
  • Vice President Harris was criticised last month when she appeared to condone comments by a student who accused Israel of committing genocide. Lapid related diplomatically to the incident telling her: “The dialogue between us is always based on facts. We met in Israel when you came to see first-hand the difficulties and understand the complexities. You know us, we know you, and this explains the strength of our bond.”
  • On Iran, Lapid shared Israel’s concern about Iran’s efforts towards nuclear capability towards becoming a nuclear threshold state. Israel is hoping to formulate a “plan B” with the US if Iran does not return to the nuclear talks in Vienna.
  • Lapid’s plan for Gaza includes repairs to the electricity system, Gaza’s gas infrastructure to be connected to regional suppliers, and a water desalination plant to be built in the first stage. There would also be significant improvements to the health care system and a rebuilding of housing and transport infrastructure. In exchange, Hamas would need to commit to long-term quiet.
  • In the second stage, Israel would support massive infrastructure projects including building an artificial island off the coast of Gaza and the construction of a port and a transportation link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel would also expect the return of the captive citizens and the bodies of the fallen IDF soldiers currently being held by Hamas.

Looking ahead: Later today Lapid will meet UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan for bilateral talks and then attend a trilateral meeting with Secretary of State Blinken.

  • The State Department reassured that in his meeting with Lapid, Blinken would “underline the US enduring support for Israeli security, including the Biden administration’s commitment to Iron Dome replenishment”.
  • Another issues on the agenda in the talks with Blinken will be China. A State Department official said, “We’ll be candid with our Israeli friends over risks to our shared national security interests that come with close cooperation with China.”
  • The Israeli government is hoping to pass a budget next month, which will give the government a degree of stability. After that, the US is expected to revisit the opening of its consul in Jerusalem that will serve as a diplomatic mission to engage with the Palestinian Authority.

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