By: Eli Saperstein  | 

Unpack with YUPAC: Will Biden Administration Fail Challenges Presented by New Netanyahu Government?

It is no secret that the relationship between the United States and Israel has always been that of strong allies; however, with the recent formation of a new, right-wing Israeli government and the inauguration of President Joe Biden who supports a two-state solution, many are wondering what the near and long-term relationship will look like for these long-time allied countries. In this article, we will unpack the potential challenges and opportunities that the Biden administration may face when working with the new Israeli government.

First, it is essential to understand the changes in the political landscape of Israel and the ripple effects it may have in America. The recent elections saw the return of Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been a fierce supporter of former President Donald Trump. The election results led to the formation of a right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Likud party in a decisive win for his rightwing allies. Netanyahu’s allies are unlike previous right-wing Israeli governments, and they do not appear to share the Biden administration’s priorities on major issues like LGBTQ+ rights and the establishment of a Palestinian state. 

While Netanyahu is not known for being a vocal opponent, he has not expressed any sign of actively supporting a viable two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state. This stands in stark contrast to the position of the Biden administration, which has continuously expressed support for a two-state solution and a commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state. “As we have throughout my Administration, the United States will continue to support the two-state solution and to oppose policies that endanger its viability or contradict our mutual interests and values.” 

One of the biggest challenges that the Biden administration will face when working with the new Israeli government is the issue of settlements in the West Bank. The Israeli government has been expanding settlements in the West Bank for decades, and the Netanyahu government has made it clear that it intends to continue this policy, declaring it a priority. While the Biden administration has said that it will oppose anything that undermines the potential of a 2 state solution they have not indicated what form the U.S. response might take or if there would be one.

Part of what makes the U.S.-Israel relationship unpredictable is the religious element of the conflict. Holy sites have been used to stir up both sides in efforts to rile up their respective bases. With the new Israeli government looking to shift the status quo, the U.S. ambassador cautioned Israeli officials saying that he, “has been very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites. Actions that prevent that are unacceptable.”

These points of contention are only some of the many potential conflicts the Biden administration may face. The Biden administration has expressed concern about the expansion of settlements, disrupting the status quo and the potential impact these incidents have on the peace process. However, Bibi and his allies do not appear interested in compromising with Biden on these points. The resulting reactions of the Biden administration in regards to how they will implement their Israel and Middle Eastern policy will result in one of two things. Either Biden fails to satisfy his left flank which has been louder than ever in their criticism and rhetoric against the Israeli government, or, Biden will be giving the GOP their talking points for the upcoming 2024 election.

The new Israeli government poses a challenge for the Biden reelection team as they aim to focus on global rivals, such as China and Russia, rather than allies. The potential uncooperative government and Republicans retaking control of the House of Representatives raise concerns that Biden may be perceived as unfriendly towards Israel ahead of the 2024 presidential election. To counter this, Biden declared the continuation of the U.S. embassy construction in Jerusalem, causing resentment among allies who have called for it to stop. This has led to concerns among global governments about the double standards of the Biden administration towards its allies and enemies.

Another issue that could have caused tension between the two countries was Iran. The new Israeli government has been vocal in its opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, which was reached during the Obama-Biden administration and which the Biden administration has indicated that it is potentially willing to re-enter. Yet, it no longer appears in the conversation. President Biden told a group of protesters that the Iran nuclear deal “is dead” before adding, “but we are not going to announce it — long story.” This could have created a significant disagreement between the two countries, as the United States appeared likely to push for a return to the nuclear deal while Israel would have fought to prevent a nuclear Iran. It appears that Biden is making every effort to keep the Middle East out of the spotlight. Even if it means compromising on his party’s and predecessor’s agenda.

Despite these challenges, there are also many opportunities for cooperation between the two countries. The US-Israeli relationship has been a mutually successful economic one. Advancements in tech, AI and security are at the forefront of the wave of challenges facing the world. It is imperative for the success of the US that they can continue to work closely with Israel as a hypersonic missile capable China looms as they conduct battle practice throughout the Taiwan strait. The United States and Israel have a long history of cooperation in this area, and the Biden administration has expressed a commitment to maintaining this strong partnership. Additionally, the Biden administration has also expressed support for the Abraham Accords, which were brokered by the Trump administration and normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries.

Neither side is looking for war, “The last thing either leader wants right now is a major confrontation.” Biden’s strategy appears to be that he will “lay it all on Bibi.” Essentially enacting a policy where the Biden administration will be dealing with Bibi and only Bibi for the time being when it comes to anything remotely serious. “To keep the relationship with Israel robust, Biden aides say they need to limit its far-right excesses, and they see Netanyahu as their best conduit to exert such influence.”

Netanyahu won with massive support from the Israeli right, and leftwing U.S. officials are rapidly seeking a way to halt a collision course, saying that they will judge his government on actions rather than personalities. Biden himself spoke of his years-long relationship with Netanyahu, and Biden appears confident that Netanyahu will continue to work together with him pursuing U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. “I look forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been my friend for decades, to jointly address the many challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East region, including threats from Iran,” Biden said when Netanyahu took office on Dec. 29. 

The Biden administration's actions contrast with Israeli interests and have resulted in limited sway with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Despite providing over $3 billion in aid and diplomatic support to Israel, the administration has not yet reopened the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. While the Palestinian embassy in Washington remains shut down during the Trump administration this is of little consolation to Israel. This hardline stance by Netanyahu may prompt the Biden administration to follow through on its election promises, which has already provided over $800 million in economic, development, security and other assistance to the Palestinians possibly because there is little to gain from cooperating with the uncooperative Israeli government. The future of cooperation remains uncertain, as both administrations are judging the actions, not promises, of their counterpart.

The relationship between the United States and Israel is a complex one. The formation of a new, rightwing Israeli government is likely to present a number of challenges for the Biden administration who, for political purposes and in preparation for the 2024 presidential election, is seeking to avoid attention on the Middle East and focus more on China and Russia. However, despite these challenges, there are also opportunities for cooperation between the two countries. It remains to be seen how the Biden administration will navigate these challenges and seize these opportunities. Still, one thing must remain clear: the United States and Israel must continue to maintain their strong relationship and they will hopefully remain important and committed partners on the world stage in the years to come.

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Photo Caption: Then-Vice President Biden meeting with Bibi in 2016

Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via Wikimedia Commons