Analysts praise Democrat’s pro-Israel credentials but say he will pose problems for the current government in Jerusalem
If former vice president Joe Biden is declared the victor in the US presidential vote, “it will hasten new elections in Israel,” a senior member of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s parliamentary coalition tells The Media Line.
It would be easier for Netanyahu to [hold an election and then] deal with a Biden White House while leading an ultra-right-wing coalition rather than today’s centrist coalition
“Netanyahu has an open door to the [Donald Trump] White House. He may no longer have such strong ties with a Biden White House,” the Knesset member elaborated. “It would be easier for Netanyahu to [hold an election and then] deal with a Biden White House while leading an ultra-right-wing coalition rather than today’s centrist coalition.
“With a Democratic presidency, things will be different regarding the Palestinians in the West Bank. With an ultra-right-wing government, it will be easier for Netanyahu to deal with a Democratic president by protesting to the Americans: ‘I am the most moderate person in my coalition. I can’t do what you ask,’” the senior parliamentarian said.
Under a President Biden, the Middle East would likely face a different type of US leadership.
Biden brings the right pro-Israel credentials, confides Prof. Jonathan Rynhold of the Political Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.
He has the longest pro-Israel record of any US politician. He met with [prime minister] Golda Meir [in Jerusalem, shortly before the 1973 Yom Kippur War] and loves to tell the story of his father’s support for the creation of Israel. He has an underlying commitment to Israel’s security
“He has the longest pro-Israel record of any US politician. He met with [prime minister] Golda Meir [in Jerusalem, shortly before the 1973 Yom Kippur War] and loves to tell the story of his father’s support for the creation of Israel,” Rynhold told The Media Line. “He has an underlying commitment to Israel’s security.
“As vice president, Biden was responsible for the 10-year MoU [Memorandum of Understanding for US Fiscal Years 2019-2028] agreement that provided a boost in military aid to Israel,” Marc Schulman, a spokesperson for Democrats Abroad Israel, stated to The Media Line. “It is clear that the military arrangements will continue.”
“Biden and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have a good personal relationship from their long years of working together,” commented Dr. Einat Wilf, a former Labor Party member of Knesset and foreign policy adviser to then-vice prime minister Shimon Peres.
Still, one of the biggest differences between the Trump Administration and one led by Biden concerns Tehran and its race to obtain nuclear weapons.
“Iran is a strategic threat to Israel and to the entire region,” former deputy minister in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren, who was ambassador to Washington in 2009-2013, under Netanyahu, told The Media Line.
Biden has said he is ready to talk with Iran
Any new deal negotiated by the United States with Iran will be difficult for Israel, in Oren’s opinion. “And Biden has said he is ready to talk with Iran.”
Rynhold agrees. “An Iran deal is a major national security issue for Israel,” he said.
The 2015 Iran nuclear accord negotiated by then-president Barack Obama “was a total betrayal,” Oren said. “He negotiated the deal behind our backs and those of other US allies in the region.”
Trump, on the other hand, withdrew the US from the accord in 2018, against the vigorous objections of America’s European allies, saying, “Not only does the deal fail to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but it also fails to address the regime’s development of ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads.”
“It is unclear what Biden means regarding a [revised] deal with Iran,” said Rynhold. “Biden and his people are deliberately being vague. There are significant differences among Biden’s advisers. Will missile development issues be addressed in a new deal? Will concessions be narrowly linked to the nuclear issue? Will US sanctions be cut back? We don’t know what will happen.”
Of one thing, though, Rynhold is certain: “Even if Israel is not sure where negotiations with Iran will go, it does know that Iran will be closer to a nuclear bomb. Things are ratcheting up.”
Regarding a Biden administration negotiating with Tehran, Oren is clear: “Israel needs to move swiftly to engage a new administration on an Iran deal. We need to publish our interests, our vision of what a good deal will look like for Israel. We need to be clear on what a good deal looks like,” he told The Media Line. “We couldn’t do this the first time.”
Despite the genuine personal friendship between Biden and Netanyahu, indications point toward the Democrat pursuing policies regarding the Palestinians and Israel different than those expounded by Trump.
Trump correctly identified the root of Palestinian intransigence, argues Wilf, co-author of The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace.
She noted to The Media Line, “Before, there was no real pressure for the Palestinians to come to terms with the legitimate sovereignty of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Trump stopped this by defunding UNRWA [the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] and taking issue with the Palestinian Authority’s payments to terrorists’ families, among other actions.”
He will likely go back to the Obama-Clinton peace process, with a two-state solution and east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital
Oren notes that Biden differs from Trump in a few significant areas regarding the peace process with the Palestinians. “He will likely go back to the Obama-Clinton peace process, with a two-state solution and east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
“It is likely that a Biden administration will oppose building by Israel in the West Bank and in eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” Oren said, seeing this as a continuation of previous Democratic administrations’ policies.
The United States’ new embassy in Jerusalem will not be moved, he said. However, he suspects that the former US Consulate in east Jerusalem, which was merged into the embassy in 2019, will return to being the de facto embassy to the Palestinians.
Regarding aid to the PA, Wilf noted that Biden has declared that his administration will reinstate much of the US assistance to the Palestinians.
“It is definitely a mistake to give funds to the Palestinians without strings attached,” she maintained.
Oren noted that all aid from the US to the Palestinian Authority and other bodies serving the Palestinians such as UNRWA will have to conform to the Taylor Force Act of 2018, which prohibits US aid to organizations paying salaries to families of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israeli prisons and to families of Palestinian “martyrs” killed in acts of terrorism against Israel and other targets.
A new administration will present Israel’s government with the need to figure out how to continue working together with US officials and how to maintain the special relationship between the two countries.
Wilf remarked that Netanyahu knows how to work Congress. This will be an advantage as he endeavors to ensure that support for Israel is maintained in both houses of Congress and on both sides of the aisle. “Netanyahu,” she said, “will work with Congress to lean on the president for the betterment of Israel.”
There are concerns about the anti-Israel elements within the Democratic Party and that Netanyahu has become too close to Trump and the Republican side.
According to Rynhold, polls over the past five years show that Democrats still support Israel as a country by a two-to-one margin when compared to the Palestinian Authority. However, Democrats support the Israeli and Palestinian people in nearly equal measure.
“We have also seen Netanyahu’s popularity among Democrats ‘hit the boards,’ being heavily negative,” Rynhold noted.
“The way Netanyahu approached the Obama Iran deal by tying himself so closely to the Republicans and then to President Trump, combined with a growing hatred of Democrats for Republicans, and vice versa, puts Netanyahu in a difficult position,” the professor said.
Said Rynhold, “Netanyahu needs to stay on good terms with the Americans and he has to stay on good terms with his core base in Israel. If he is too accommodating to Biden, he will lose votes to the right. If he is too accommodating to the Israeli right, he will be challenged by others.”
Netanyahu, it appears, will have a great deal to think about if the Democrats take the White House.