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Following Biden’s Victory: A Possible Change on the Israeli-Palestinian Front
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in September 2010 at the White House. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Following Biden’s Victory: A Possible Change on the Israeli-Palestinian Front

Maariv, Israel, November 10

The coming weeks until Biden’s inauguration will be a particularly critical and sensitive period for Israel, in which it will carefully need to distance itself from Trump, who will still be president, while entering a dialogue with the new administration led by Joe Biden. Biden’s victory means a transition from a world of unprecedented warm relations between the Israeli and American administrations to a new-old world of friendly relations, but not ones lacking tough love. In particular, the Iranian issue may prove to be a point of contention between the Netanyahu government and the Biden Administration. Granted, it is still unclear what President-elect Biden’s stance on this issue will be. But what is clear beyond any doubt is that Israel has a narrow window of opportunity to influence his position on the matter. Netanyahu must therefore launch direct, albeit discreet, communication channels with the Biden transition team. Biden is considered not only a friend of Israel, but also a friend of Binyamin Netanyahu. But political friendship is always limited. Bilateral support for Israel in Congress has not disappeared, but it certainly weakened during the Trump and Obama years and the number one priority for Israel ought to be to rehabilitate it. The final composition of the Senate will only become clear in January following re-elections in the state of Georgia. And while the president sets foreign policy, the Senate has the ability to influence, for better or worse, issues related to US policy abroad. Israel must secure the support of senior Democratic senators to protect its national interests. Biden as Obama’s deputy did not always agree with his boss’ foreign policy; for example, he opposed the abandonment of President Mubarak of Egypt. But in order to examine Biden’s foreign policy one has to wait and see who he appoints as secretary of state and national security adviser. The names raised so far seem to indicate Biden’s intention to return to more traditional policies, although the next President will not be able to ignore changes that have taken place in the Democratic Party. The left-leaning wing of the party has already warned Biden not to ignore its positions. Key figures in this camp include Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former deputy national security adviser, who strongly opposes Biden’s emerging foreign policy stances. He already urged Biden to end the United States’ “destructive” relations with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and to force Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians. Biden has repeatedly stated that his commitment to Israel’s security is an “ironclad commitment,” and indeed all signs indicate that the close cooperation between the United States and Israel will continue to take place under Biden. However, a clear change may occur on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Although the American embassy will remain in Jerusalem, an American consulate in the eastern part of the city, serving the Palestinians, may be reopened. Steps also will a be taken to restore relations between Washington and the Palestinian Authority. Further, Israeli activity beyond the Green Line may very well be a red line for Biden. The only time Biden, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke harshly against Israel was when new settlements were established. It also is clear that the issue of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank will be frozen for the next four years, but other parts of Trump’s “deal of the century” may actually guide Biden’s policy, in part because expanding ties between Israel and the Arab world is also an American interest. – Zalman Shoval, former Israeli ambassador to the United States (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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