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Israeli Lawmaker: US Election a Blow to Prime Minister
Then-US vice president Joe Biden (left) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in March 2016 during a visit to Israel. (US Embassy in Israel)

Israeli Lawmaker: US Election a Blow to Prime Minister

Observers reflect on ways Biden-Netanyahu relationship will affect policy, local politics

After what has amounted to an almost four-year honeymoon with US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will have to adjust to a new White House under President-elect Joe Biden.

Waiting more than 12 hours – conspicuously longer than most other world leaders – Netanyahu tweeted that he was looking forward to working with both Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris “to further strengthen the special alliance between the US and Israel.” The prime minister then quickly added his thanks to President Trump for the friendship he had shown “the State of Israel and me personally.”

Since January 2017, the American leader has seemingly aligned US policy with Israeli interests.

He pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal signed by former president Barack Obama in 2015, turned a cold shoulder toward Palestinian demands in the West Bank, and in January of this year introduced a peace plan that heavily favored Israeli interests. He also brokered or accelerated normalization agreements between Jerusalem and three Arab states.

Ram Ben Barak, a member of the opposition in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and a former deputy head of the Mossad, claims that under President Trump, the US alliance with Israel was based on personal interests, while under a Biden administration, cooperation will be based on shared values. 

“There is no doubt that a big change is coming in US policy toward Israel,” Ben Barak told The Media Line.

There is no doubt that a big change is coming in US policy toward Israel

“It won’t be for the worse – just different. We won’t be dealing with a president that is a fan of the prime minister, and vice versa, and they won’t be part of a mutual survival pact for their own personal reasons. Rather, it will be based on both countries’ shared values,” he explained.

Ben Barak adds that the outcome of the US presidential election will certainly have an impact on Israeli politics.

“Netanyahu suffered a serious blow…” he said. “Losing his American friend might dampen his rush to call for elections. He’ll be more hesitant. But either way, [Israeli] elections are near. [They will] be called in February at the latest.”

He was referring to a caustic relationship between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and the other component of Israel’s so-called unity government, the centrist Blue and White party.

Eldad Shavit, a retired colonel and currently a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, believes the changes on the Israeli political scene will be much more nuanced.

“Basic policy won’t shift,” he told The Media Line.

“Biden is willing to continue [Israel’s] normalization process [with Gulf nations]. The question is whether he is willing to pay the price,” the analyst said, referring to what this might cost the American taxpayer in inducements.

Similarly, Shavit, who until recently served as head of the Research Division in the Prime Minister’s Office, suggests tempering expectations regarding peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“I don’t think we’ll see something anytime soon, especially with the current Palestinian leadership,” he stated.

“Washington will manage the situation to prevent any violence from erupting, maybe reopen the [US] Consulate [in east Jerusalem] or get back to funding some [Palestinian] institutions that Trump defunded,” he said. “But not much more.”

Washington will manage the situation to prevent any violence from erupting, maybe reopen the US Consulate in east Jerusalem or get back to funding some Palestinian institutions that Trump defunded. But not much more

Ben Barak speculates that the Palestinian-Israeli dispute will indeed return to the front burner.

“The two-state solution will definitely be more present,” he stated. “It will receive a different kind of focus. I believe Trump’s policy will, in a way, have assisted that: His four years gave the Palestinians some perspective.”

The two-state solution will definitely be more present. It will receive a different kind of focus. I believe Trump’s policy will, in a way, have assisted that: His four years gave the Palestinians some perspective

Heather Stone, chair of Democrats Abroad-Israel, says that overall, a Biden-Harris administration will be beneficial for Israel.

“President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are committed to restoring much-needed peace, stability and unity to America, as well as to its relationships with traditional American allies, including Israel,” she told The Media Line.

“They will strengthen America and its alliances, which will directly benefit Israel’s stability and security,” she added.

Another pressing issue for Israel is the nuclear aspirations of Iran.

Two years into his term, President Trump announced he was withdrawing from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities in return for the lifting of international sanctions. In the past few months, Washington has steadily increased economic pressure on the Islamic Republic.

Ben Barak and Shavit both predict that the new administration will try to rejoin the JCPOA, the former estimating that the conditions of the agreement will have to change, the latter assessing that not all sanctions will be removed.

“[President-elect Biden] will try to get back in the [accord] with European consent,” Ben Barak said. “It won’t be the same agreement exactly. Here also, the Trump years will prove to have helped. The Iranians suffered severely and are willing to reach some understandings.”

President-elect Biden will try to get back in the accord with European consent. It won’t be the same agreement exactly. Here also, the Trump years will prove to have helped. The Iranians suffered severely and are willing to reach some understandings

Says Shavit: “I think [Biden] will use this leverage created by Trump to try and renew the agreement. They won’t remove all sanctions; you can’t turn back the clock. But maybe a Biden administration will be more open to giving the Iranians something [although] that may not be enough.”

Following the US election, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took the opportunity to criticize President Trump, tweeting: “The situation in the US and what they themselves say about their elections is a spectacle… Regardless of the outcome, one thing is absolutely clear: the definite political, civil and moral decline of the US regime.”

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