PRIME MINISTER BENNETT: Secretary of State, Tony, it’s a pleasure to have you here in Jerusalem, and, my friend, welcome. We had a very meaningful meeting and I think we learned a lot one from another, and we were in sync.
Today is a historic day. We’re hosting the Negev Summit here in Israel, where the foreign ministers of Egypt, the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain will gather together with Israel and the United States in Sde Boker, southern Israel, for this momentous occasion. I’d like to convey my thanks to you, Secretary of State Blinken, and to Israel’s foreign minister, my friend Yair Lapid, for the important parts you’re playing in this summit.
The Middle East is changing, and it’s changing for the better. We’re cultivating old ties and building new bridges. We’re rejuvenating old peace and charging it with the new energy of the Abraham Accords. We’re working together to overcome the old forces of darkness and build a new future that’s better, brighter, and promising. And I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your personal commitment to the Abraham Accords and for your continued efforts to grow, nurture, and further expand this important regional partnership.
Israel’s doors are as open as ever, as you’ve seen. In a turbulent world, Israel is a force for peace, prosperity, stability, and for doing good. That’s what we’re about: to be strong here and do good. And unfortunately, there are other forces in the region that are still violent and destructive. As I just shared with you in the meeting, we’re concerned about the intention to delist the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Their proxy, the Houthis, just this weekend carried out a horrific attack on Saudi Arabia. I hope the United States will hear the concerned voices from the region, Israel’s and others’, on this very important issue.
On a different note, this week, the end of the week, the holy month of Ramadan will begin, and our government is working very hard to improve the lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza. Just earlier today, my cabinet approved 20,000 workers from Gaza to be able to work in Israel. We’re going to be investing almost 40 million shekel in improving the crossings between Israel and Gaza Strip to allow smooth and a dignified movement between Gaza and Israel. While we can’t solve everything, we can improve the lives of people on ground, and thanks to your help, this is happening; it’s materializing. So even if you can’t solve everything, it doesn’t mean you don’t do anything.
As for the war in Ukraine, Israel stands firm with the people of Ukraine and is going to continue our effort to help reduce the suffering and end the bloodshed. We’ve already sent our top medical teams to set up the most advanced field hospital inside Ukraine, on the western side. I’ve been reported that they’re already taken care and treated over 500 patients. At this moment, at this very moment, doctors and nurses are risking their lives to save lives of those in need. I’m proud of what Israel is doing.
And of course, we’re doing what we can, when asked, to contribute to the efforts to end this war. We do this while maintaining close coordination with the United States and with our European partners.
Tony, please, send my gratitude to President Biden for his friendship and for keeping his promise regarding the Iron Dome, which saves lives. Israel greatly appreciates America’s commitment to our security. The alliance between the United States and Israel is as strong as ever, and though we may have our differences, as friends do, it remains unbreakable. Thank you and have a productive visit here in Israel.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for this really, more than good, very productive exchange between us, which I deeply appreciate; so does my whole team. We covered a lot of ground in our discussion, and I want to highlight, if I can, a couple of the issues.
But first, a point of personal privilege. It is particularly great to have our new ambassador here, Tom Nides. He’s a close friend of mine, a longtime colleague, but more important than that, he’s a good friend of President Biden and is deeply committed to the relationship between Israel and the United States.
PRIME MINISTER BENNETT: Yeah, he’s okay. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, now, I will say – I’ve said this to Tom – I think we got the better —
PRIME MINISTER BENNETT: (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We got the better end of the bargain because we have Mike Herzog.
PRIME MINISTER BENNETT: Right. There you go. Wonderful ambassadors.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You mentioned this, Prime Minister. Last August, when the prime minister visited the White House, President Biden made clear America and our administration’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. It’s something we say, but it’s also something that we do and that I reaffirmed today.
President Biden, in that meeting, promised his full support for replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome, and he delivered on that pledge, signing a funding bill that includes $1 billion for this crucial defense system just some days ago.
We also share and we are united in addressing the challenges posed by Iran, including its nuclear program. And there is no daylight between us on the fundamental proposition that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. And whether there is a return to the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear agreement, or not, that principle will not change nor will our commitment to it.
I had a chance to update the prime minister on the ongoing diplomatic efforts around the JCPOA, as we’ve done consistently with our Israeli partners, and as we’ll continue to do. And deal or no deal, we will continue to work together and with other partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, as indeed we’ve seen most recently in the Houthi attacks against civilian infrastructure in the United Arab Emirates and in Saudi Arabia – acts of terrorism enabled by Iran.
I thanked the prime minister for his diplomatic efforts, important diplomatic efforts, to end the Russian Government’s aggression against Ukraine. We value these efforts and we’ve been closely coordinated throughout. It’s important, and your insights as well are very meaningful, so I thank you for that.
PRIME MINISTER BENNETT: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We appreciate all efforts by allies and partners to stop the catastrophic suffering that Russia’s aggression is causing for the people in Ukraine. And I have to say, we’re also grateful for the Israeli Government’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine – including more than 100 tons of food, medicine, generators, other vital supplies, and the field hospital. I had a chance earlier today when I was with Foreign Minister Lapid to actually connect directly with those who are running the field hospital. We did it virtually, and it was very powerful to see that in action.
This support is crucial as more and more Ukrainian men, women, and children are being killed, maimed, displaced by Moscow’s attacks; more are trapped in barbaric sieges, where they are denied food, water, medicine; and where people are starving. Fully half the children in Ukraine have been displaced by Russia’s aggression. Half the children in the country.
I also made clear the conviction that the United States has that Israelis and Palestinians deserve to enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, and dignity. And that’s one of the principal reasons we support a negotiated two-state solution.
The prime minister and his government have made important efforts to address some of the challenges facing Palestinians, increasing Israeli water sales to Gaza, granting permits now to 20,000 people from Gaza to work in Israel, legalizing the status of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank. And we very much hope to see more efforts along these lines in the near term.
We’re also encouraged to see members of the prime minister’s cabinet meeting with Palestinian leaders – including Defense Minister Ganz, whom I’ll see in a short while.
Our administration is also rebuilding America’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, something I’ll continue to do today in Ramallah with President Abbas, and in East Jerusalem with leaders of that community’s vibrant and diverse civil society. We’re increasing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, totaling half a billion dollars since April 2021.
Today, we also discussed ways to foster a peaceful Passover, Ramadan, and Easter across Israel, and Gaza and the West Bank, particularly in Jerusalem, a city of such profound importance to Jews, to Christians, to Muslims.
And that means working to prevent actions on all sides that could raise tensions, including settlement expansion, settler violence, incitement to violence, demolitions, payments to individuals convicted of terrorism, evictions of families from homes they’ve lived in for decades – it’s a message that I’ll be underscoring in all of my meetings on this trip.
At the same time, we are increasing our efforts to foster partnerships between Palestinian and Israeli grassroots organizations, businesses, young people, other parts of society, through a five-year, $250 million Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act.
Right after this, in fact, I will have a chance to meet with one of the program’s first grantees – a project that brings together groups in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel to tackle the interconnected problem of water scarcity. Efforts like this will not only improve people’s lives, but build relationships that can help defuse tension and violence, and ultimately, lay a foundation for dialogue and for peace.
Finally, as the prime minister said, we discussed how we can continue to build on the significant progress of the Abraham Accords and normalization – including in the summit starting this evening, the Negev. The United States will continue not only to support and to work with those who already normalized relations, but also to urge more governments to take this important step – to the benefit of people in their countries and far beyond.
Mr. Prime Minister, your recent trilateral summit with President al-Sisi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed as well as President Herzog’s visit to Turkey for meetings with President Erdogan and others – these are just the latest demonstrations of broader engagement that is made possible as normalization becomes the new normal throughout the region. And again, I applaud Israel’s leadership, its engagement, its diplomacy in building these agreements and making them real.
So, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for hosting us today – and again, for such a constructive, important exchange on everything we’ve just talked about and more. And thank you for continuing to strengthen what is an enduring and powerful friendship between Israel and the United States. Thank you very much.
PRIME MINISTER BENNETT: Thank you.