Concern Over US-Israel Ties as Far Right Gets Ready To Join New Government
Despite controversies, the inclusion of far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in Israel’s next government not likely to affect US security cooperation or aid to Israel, but could poison the atmosphere
Former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday began meeting for preliminary talks with the leaders of the parties that make up the right-wing bloc. The meetings come ahead of his sit down later this week with President Isaac Herzog, who is more than likely to task Netanyahu, whose bloc received a majority of the votes in last week’s national election, with forming a government. Then, the official negotiations to form a government coalition will begin.
Among the party leaders that Netanyahu has met are lawmakers from the Religious Zionism alliance, which appears to be problematic in the eyes of the Biden administration in the United States. However, experts believe that the chances of the inclusion of the party in the next government dramatically affecting US-Israel ties is slim.
The Likud party, headed by Netanyahu, won 32 out of the 120 seats in the next Knesset. The runner-up was the left-of-center Yesh Atid party, led by caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, with 24 seats, followed by the far-right Religious Zionism alliance headed by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, which garnered 14 mandates.
The latter, says Dr. Yonatan Freeman of the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is very likely to be included in Netanyahu’s government.
“Generally speaking, the parties that represent the right have historically gone with the Likud party when forming a coalition, and that has led members of those parties to become ministers or head committees in the Knesset. So, I think it’s likely that they will be part of the Netanyahu government,” he told The Media Line.
According to a report by the Axios news website, during Herzog’s visit to Washington last week, he was warned by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan that the US may refuse to cooperate with “certain politicians,” possibly referring to Religious Zionism’s Ben-Gvir, who holds extreme views and is very vocal in his racism toward Arabs.
It will definitely have a negative impact on how Democrats relate to the Israeli government, and it will create a bad atmosphere in the relations between the two governments
Now that the inclusion and the likely important positions that these lawmakers will have in Israel’s new government are almost certain, Professor Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, says that it will probably complicate ties between Israel and the United States.
“It will definitely have a negative impact on how Democrats relate to the Israeli government, and it will create a bad atmosphere in the relations between the two governments,” he told The Media Line.
However, says Rynhold, this is not likely to affect the security cooperation between the two countries, nor the aid that the United States provides to Israel.
“The security cooperation will continue and, as long as there is no annexation by the Israeli government of territory, I do not expect the aid to Israel to be affected either,” he added.
Freeman reaffirms that US-Israel ties have always been strong regardless of whether the Likud party is forming the government or a different party.
“What is more important is what policies will this government project,” he added.
Throughout Israel’s history, he notes, even though certain parties have been part of the government, their complete platform is not the policy in effect.
Freeman notes that when Avigdor Liberman was named defense minister in 2016 there also were many voices around the world that expressed concern due to his far-right image, reiterating: “I think we have to understand there are personalities, and there are policies.”
Rynhold believes that the only two positions given to Ben-Gvir and Smotrich that could affect the US-Israel relationship are the Defense and Foreign Affairs portfolios, which, he adds, they are not likely to get since Likud lawmakers probably will be appointed to those positions.
The appointment of Religious Zionism lawmakers to other positions, he believes, will have a more indirect effect on US-Israel relations. “The other ministries would affect the atmosphere and the perception of the government, more than the working relationship,” he said.
What is more important is what policies will this government project
Freeman stresses that the US has said that it accepts the results of the election and recognizes that they were free, open and democratic.
“We had the ambassador of the United States congratulating Netanyahu, and we also know that in the next few days President Biden is supposed to call as well,” he said.
Rynhold notes regarding the upcoming US midterm elections on November 8, that “should the Republicans succeed as predicted; they would be equally supportive of Israel irrespective of the change of government.”
“It will make it more difficult for the Biden administration to impose costs on any Israeli behavior that they do not like,” he said, adding that this could be a consideration for Netanyahu’s near future decision-making regarding the coalition negotiations, but not a central one.