Friday, October 15, 2021

Shift in Israel offers Biden a chance for better tires

WASHINGTON – President Biden waited more than three weeks after his inauguration to place his first call to Benjamin Netanyahu, then prime minister of Israel. This has Mr. Bids took less than three hours after Netanyahu’s successor Naftali Bennett called on Sunday with what the White House called his “heartfelt congratulations”.

Mr. Bennett reacted in kind and on Monday, Yair Lapid, his centrist partner in the awkward coalition merged to oust Mr. To put Netanyahu down, went even further and Mr. Netanyahu blamed for poisoning Israel’s relationship with Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party.

The change of government in Israel will hardly erase deep differences with the Biden government: the right-wing Mr. Bennett is ideologically closer to Mr. Netanyahu as mr. Biden. And that did not make the long-running issues in the Middle East any less difficult.

But the early interactions point to a shift in tone and opportunity, analysts say, to establish a less controversial relationship, with possible implications for dealing with Iran, the Palestinians and the wider region.

“The tone and tenor of the relationship started very well,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, the US ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005.

“The Biden government clearly wants to send a message that they are open to serious issues and dialogue,” he added, noting the swift calls from Mr. Biden and one of the foreign ministers, Antony J. Blinken, to Mr. Lapid.

In a statement The office of mr. Bennett said Sunday that he sees the U.S. president as a great friend of the state of Israel and plans to strengthen ties between the two countries.

In a speech Monday, Mr. Lapid said the management of the Netanyahu government’s relationship with the Democratic Party was “indifferent and dangerous.”

“We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate and House, and they are angry,” he said. Lapid, Israel’s new foreign minister, said and as part of the agreement formed by the unlikely coalition, Mr. Bennett is succeeded as first minister in two years. “We need to change the way we work with them.”

Although Mr. Bennett shares and even reinforces much of his predecessor’s harsh views on issues that have plagued relations between the US and Israel recently, including Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s attitude toward the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s retirement after twelve years in office was a relief to the Biden government.

Mr. Biden considers Mr. Netanyahu has long been a friend, although he is one with whom he often disagrees. But many administrative officials and congressional Democrats despise the ousted Israeli leader, whom they saw as a corrosive force and a de facto political ally of Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump.

Biden administration officials “do not like Bibi, and they see the possibility of a fresh start with Bennett,” Natan Sachs, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, said in an online panel released Monday. the Carnegie was offered. Endowment for international peace.

“I think a fundamental change is possible,” he said. Kurtzer, now a professor at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs, at. “You now have a government in which there is a prime minister who does not think he knows better than Washington what the United States should do.”

Analysts have noted that Israel’s fragile new coalition government, which unites political parties with diffuse views, does not have the political consensus to adopt important new policies towards the Palestinians.

“There will be no big moves,” he said. Sachs said. Mr. Bennett and Mr. Lapid hopes the policy will be ‘boring’, “he said, focusing on domestic issues such as Israel’s economy and budget.

This means virtually no chance of an Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank area of ​​the kind recently reported by Mr. Netanyahu is not intended, a move that would provoke a diplomatic crisis in Biden’s government.

At the same time, the new Israeli government has little interest in or the ability to bring about new peace initiatives with the Palestinians.

Mr. Bennett has publicly opposed the two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. U.S. foreign policy experts have been told that Mr. Bennett referred to a book called “Catch-67” by Israeli author Micah Goodman, which claims that there is no possibility of a comprehensive final peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. . Its prescription is to reduce the friction of the case, rather than to solve a difficult problem.

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Although Mr. Biden supports a two-state solution, he does not consider it realistic in the short term. Aiming to shift America’s focus from the Middle East to restoring alliances with Europe and combating an emerging China, he did not actually pursue one and, unlike his predecessors, did not pursue a envoy nominated to mediate a peace agreement.

But officials from the Biden administration, who called for the rapid reconstruction of Gaza after the conflict that broke out last month between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, may soon be frustrated by the slow pace. in which international aid is moving in that direction. area, the infrastructure of which is badly damaged.

At the same time, every new outbreak of mutual violence between Jews and Arabs in Israel, such as the one that sparked the Gaza conflict last month, could jeopardize relations between Mr. Biden and mr. Bennett, a strong supporter of Israeli nationalist and settler groups, tests. that Biden officials see an obstacle to peace.

Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian-American analyst and a fellow at Arab Center Washington DC, said both Israeli and US officials hope to put a new face on old policies and return to a situation where Palestinian issues not attracting worldwide attention they did this spring.

“The challenge is that the conditions on the ground will not necessarily lead to this charade,” he said.

Mr. Biden will continue to face sharp criticism from progressive Democrats in Congress over Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which has led to increasing calls for cuts or restrictions on the $ 3.8 billion in annual U.S. military aid sent to Israel.

Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, visited Washington this month to seek $ 1 billion in additional U.S. funds to supplement the Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile system, which intercepted thousands of Hamas rockets fired at Israeli cities. While emphasizing their support for the Iron Dome system, government officials have not committed themselves to it.

Another test case for the new relationship could emerge from Vienna, where key talks between various world powers, the US and Iran, resumed for a sixth round over the weekend. The Biden government, which offers sanction relief, hopes to persuade Iran to return to compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal that both opposed Bennett and Lapid on the grounds that it does not adequately restrict Iran’s nuclear program not.

Halie Soifer, chief executive of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said she was optimistic that the debate over the Iran deal would be more moderate than in the Obama era, when Netanyahu infuriated the White House through a speech to deliver to Congress opposed the nuclear deal.

“To the extent that the Israeli government is no longer trying to intervene in our own domestic politics, we are hopeful that it will be very different from what happened in 2015,” she said.

But Michael Doran, a former official of the National Security Council for Middle East Affairs in the White House of George W. Bush, warned that a threat as substantial as Iran’s potential nuclear weapons capability was too great to be conveyed by friendlier attitudes. pressure.

“I do not think the Israelis will abandon their opposition to the nuclear deal,” he said. “I do not think they will abandon their clandestine operations to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program. And it’s going to create significant friction between Jerusalem and Washington. ”

Netanyahu also has no plans to leave the public stage, especially when it comes to an Iran deal he has long denounced.

In a fiery remark Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu angrily warned that Mr. Lapid would make a weak opponent against renewing the agreement.

“The Prime Minister of Israel must be able to say no to the President of the United States on issues that threaten our existence,” he said. Netanyahu said, according to The Times of Israel. “This government does not want to oppose the United States and cannot oppose it.”

Annie Karni Washington’s reporting, and Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem.

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