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U.S. responds cautiously to Netanyahu's return as Israel's prime minister


Benjamin Netanyahu is back as Israel's prime minister. The Israeli parliament ratified his coalition government on Thursday. He's appointed far-right religious ultranationalists to key positions of power. Israelis and Palestinians are still reacting, and the Biden administration is responding cautiously, as NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Tel Aviv.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: After the government was sworn in, President Biden said in a brief statement, I look forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who's been my friend for decades. He said they would work together to counter threats from Iran and to promote Israel's relations in the Mideast. But he said the U.S. will continue to oppose policies that endanger the viability of forming a Palestinian state one day and that contradict the U.S. and Israel's mutual interests and values - apparently a reference to the ultranationalist makeup of the new coalition. The Palestinian Authority has called on countries not to deal with Israel's new leaders. Palestinian ambassador to the U.K., Husam Zomlot, tells NPR the U.S. shares blame for Israel's politics.

HUSAM ZOMLOT: It was the outcome of years of international inaction of U.S., enabling the situation to fester and to the populism and the dangerous individuals we see in this government.

ESTRIN: Israel's new minister of national security is far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir. He was convicted in Israel for supporting an anti-Arab group that both Israel and the U.S. consider a terrorist organization. The Biden administration won't say whether it will engage directly with him, just that it will judge the Israeli government on its policies, not personalities. But in Israel, many are not reserving judgment.


ESTRIN: Demonstrators blocked traffic Thursday, waving pride flags after some incoming government ministers said businesses and doctors should be able to refuse serving LGBTQ Israelis on the grounds of religious liberty. Netanyahu insists he'll defend LGBTQ rights. Israel's president gave a speech yesterday.

ISAAC HERZOG: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: President Isaac Herzog told worried Israelis that their democracy is strong and that they shouldn't talk as if their country is doomed. He also said he spoke with members of the new government and demanded they show the responsibility needed at this time.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv.


Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.