Ambassador Nides Won’t Say If He’ll Meet With Ben Gvir

By Zalman Ahnsaf

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Richard Nides. )Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

YERUSHALAYIM – U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides evaded a question on Thursday as to whether he will meet and work with incoming national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

“I’m not going to get into who we’ll meet with and who [we won’t]. I don’t even know who the people are going to be,” Nides told Channel 12.

Senior Biden administration officials have been putting heavy pressure on Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu not to appoint Ben Gvir to national security, nor Betzalel Smotrich to the defense ministry. The administration has not stated officially, however, that it would not recognize them if appointed, though it has stressed the importance of Israel respecting minority rights and democratic values.

“As Joe Biden said on the phone call, ‘Bibi, I’ve known you for 40 years. You’re my friend. I will work with you,” Nides said. “I’m not going to get into individuals and who we will or won’t. I’m not going to speculate what Ben Gvir’s going to do — who we’ll meet with who we’re not going to meet with. What I’ll say is that I’ll spend time with this government, and I have a great relationship with this government.”

Nides had reportedly hinted to Netanyahu that he must choose a minister for defense with whom they could work. The obvious reference was to the Religionist Zionist party head Smotrich, who at the time was demanding the post. Smotrich advocates, among other things, annexation of parts of Yehuda and Shomron, to which Washington is unalterably opposed.

He subsequently withdrew, and a former IDF general, Likud Mk Yoav Galant, was chosen instead, according to reports. Galant, a secularist with centrist views, is a more palatable persona for Washington, and his candidacy has not aroused any of the liberal-left outrage associated with Smotrich and Ben Gvir.

But Nides would not admit to advising or intimating to Netanyahu who would or would not be acceptable to the White House.

“I can’t tell Bibi Netanyahu what to do,” Nides told Channel 12. “But that job is very important… I’ve made that very clear [to him].”

“We will work with whoever the prime minister puts in that job,” Nides said on Thursday, knowing that Galant, not Smotrich, is now expected to get the job.

On Thursday evening, the Likud announced that a coalition deal was reached with Smotrich, who will serve as finance minister on a rotational basis, probably with Shas leader Rabbi Aryeh Deri.

Part of the deal entails giving his party charge over the Civil Administration which governs affairs in 60% of Yehuda and Shomron, a situation likely to generate conflict with the Biden administration.

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