Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced he will travel Wednesday to the United States, where he expects to meet with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington to tackle issues of interest for both countries.
Although his office did not give details of the nature of the meeting, a source in his ministry said Gantz will try to defend the Israeli government’s decision to build about 4,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The source said that Washington had strongly criticized the settlement decision, as well as the recent Israeli operations in the West Bank and Jerusalem, particularly the assassination of Palestinian-US journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the brutal assault on her funeral processions.
Gantz will carry with him the results of the investigation conducted by an Israeli officer into the assassination.
Earlier this month, the Israeli Defense Minister had arranged to attend two Jewish events held in the US by his ministry, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, to raise funds for the Israeli army.
However, the assassination of Abu Akleh pushed Gantz to ask to meet US officials.
Last week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called for an "immediate and credible investigation" into the circumstances of the killing of Abu Akleh.
Blinken announced that he spoke to Shireen's brother and expressed deep condolences for her loss, and deep respect for the work that she did as a journalist for many years.
US President Joe Biden has accepted an invitation to visit Israel in June and show support for Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett against the two men’s opponent, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite the announcement, the Biden administration had appealed several times to the Bennett government in recent weeks, warning against approving new settlement projects.
The US envoy to Israel, Thomas Naides, said he and other Biden administration officials have made it clear to Israeli officials several times in the last two weeks that the administration is opposed to the construction of new settlements and asked Israeli authorities not to move ahead with it.
Few days following Naides’ comments, the Israeli Civil Administration, a military body, said the Higher Planning Committee met last Thursday to give green light to the building of 3,988 new settler units.
Political sources in Tel Aviv expressed their fear of an angry US reaction to the Committee’s decision that would push the Biden administration to cancel or postpone the president’s visit to Israel.
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post newspaper said that Bennett decided to take rightward steps to strengthen his Yamina party and prevent further defections from it.
It said Bennett will visit Elkana in Samaria on Tuesday, his first public visit to a West Bank settlement since becoming prime minister 11 months ago.