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Netanyahu calls Pelosi to discuss Israel’s COVID response as some Democrats offer criticism

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House of Representatives speaker, spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Israel’s COVID-19 response at a time that Israel is under pressure to extend its vaccination program to Palestinians in the West Bank.

“Today, I spoke with [the Israeli prime minister] to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations and Congress’s unwavering support for a safe and secure Israel,” Pelosi said Wednesday on Twitter. “We discussed COVID response and our shared hope for regional peace, including a just, stable and enduring two-state solution.”

JTA has learned that Netanyahu initiated the call, and that it was lengthy and friendly. It comes just a month before Israel’s elections. Pelosi’s tweet is illustrated with a photo of Pelosi in her office, taking notes at a desk that overlooks the National Mall.

It’s notable that Pelosi singled out COVID response; Israel is garnering international criticism for leaving out Palestinians in the West Bank from its successful vaccine rollout. Among the critics have been leading Democrats in the House.

Netanyahu this week ordered the delivery of thousands of vaccines to the Palestinians, reportedly after pressure from the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, but the likelihood is that U.S. pressure will not let up until Netanyahu delivers a more comprehensive vaccine rollout for the Palestinians.

Israel says that prior agreements and international law do not oblige it to vaccinate Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority.

Also notable is Pelosi’s mention of a “just, stable and enduring two-state solution.” With Democrats now controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, Israel will be under pressure to abandon the Trump administration peace plan, which was vague about whether the Palestinians would achieve statehood, and included the prospect of Israel annexing parts of the West Bank.

Pelosi’s affirmation of the “unbreakable bond between our nations and Congress’s unwavering support for a safe and secure Israel” comes as Israel and pro-Israel groups are apprehensive at the ascent within the Democratic congressional caucus of lawmakers who have been sharply critical of Israel. Last week, Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota who has proposed conditioning aid to Israel on its treatment of Palestinian minors in detention, was named chairwoman of the influential defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

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