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Israeli Opposition Leader Calls for Close Ties With U.S. in Visit

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met on Monday with Israel’s opposition leader, Yair Lapid, who reaffirmed the underlying U.S.-Israel bond despite tensions between President Biden and Mr. Lapid’s chief political rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The United States and the State of Israel are the best of allies and best of friends and we need to maintain this friendship. No current events, no government, even, will interfere with this friendship,” Mr. Lapid told reporters at the State Department after the meeting.

“We are thankful for the support of the American administration to Israel in one of the most difficult moments of our history,” he added.

Asked directly about Mr. Biden’s message to Mr. Netanyahu last week threatening a change in U.S. policy if Israel does not do more to feed and protect civilians in Gaza, Mr. Lapid did not respond directly, but acknowledged the difficulty of a military campaign in the crowded enclave.

“We need to make sure we do our best in order to avoid hurting the people of Gaza,” Mr. Lapid said. “On the other hand, you have to remember we are fighting a terrible terror organization that is using them as human shields. And if somebody has a problem with what is happening in Gaza, he’s welcome to ask Hamas, ‘Why do you start this war?’”

Mr. Lapid demurred when asked about last week’s call for elections by September by Benny Gantz, another rival of Mr. Netanyahu who is a member of his war cabinet.

“I feel uncomfortable to discuss Israeli politics standing outside the State Department,” he said. “I will have enough time to do this in Israel.”

Mr. Lapid was more candid during a Saturday interview with Israel’s Channel 12. He said U.S.-Israeli relations should never have reached the situation facing both countries now and that Israel’s disputes with the Biden administration should have happened behind closed doors.

Mr. Lapid leads Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party and served as the country’s prime minister for the second half of 2022.

After seeing Mr. Blinken, he was scheduled to visit the White House to meet with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Mr. Lapid also planned to meet with the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, who last month called for Israeli elections to remove Mr. Netanyahu from power.

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