By: Shlomo Yellin  | 

Unpack With YUPAC: What Will Biden and Bibi’s Relationship Yield?

Bibi and Biden: two political titans both beholden to their respective parties. The two have a striking number of similarities, yet the media seems confident a political showdown between the two is inevitable. This is not entirely without basis, as Bibi’s return to power was predicated upon the furthest-right government in modern Israeli history. What many fail to note, however, is that while the government is a new one, the relationship between Bibi and Biden is not. Yes, Biden is relatively left-leaning and Netanyahu’s government is very right-leaning, but these two facts alone do not automatically initiate political hostilities. For one, Bibi is widely considered and expected to be a stabilizing figure. In past more liberal coalitions, Bibi exerted a conservative influence, while in the current coalition, he is exerting a more liberal influence compared to parties such as Otzama Yehudit and Hatzyonit Hadatit. It is also important to note that Bibi is an exceptionally seasoned politician with many considering him to be somewhat of a political chameleon adopting the policies and viewpoints required by his coalition partners in exchange for the premiership.

The most important thing to note when discussing and predicting what form the relationship between the two countries will take is that both Bibi and Biden have a long history together. Biden famously stated, “Bibi, I don't agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you.” While some may be quick to relegate Biden’s words to political showmanship, many, including this author, feel it to be a genuine sentiment. It cannot be overstressed how important personal relationships in politics can be. From the very beginning of the Obama administration, the relationship between Bibi and Obama was frosty. It only got worse as Obama became more comfortable in his power, stretching many truths when discussing Israel. The culmination of these tensions was the infamous Iran deal as well as the US’s abstention from UN Security Council Resolution 2334. With Trump’s election already secured, Bibi finally allowed himself to reciprocate much more gracefully the malice of Obama and his administration, responding: “Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump.” Considering the open disdain for Israel then Secretary of State John Kerry exhibited, as well as Obama’s blatant hostility to the only Jewish nation, many feel that Israel averted a catastrophe, avoiding what could have amounted to a full breakdown between US-Israel relations, had Obama had the audacity to be as aggressively anti-Israel in the earlier days of his administration as his later ones. 

If anything, Biden learned from his tenure as VP that being openly hostile to Israel was not going to yield any results. It also helps that Biden prides himself on his close relationship with the Jewish community and Israel. In any event, Biden and Bibi being buds cannot be understated. It is very likely that even if Bibi continues to legalize more settlements in Yehuda V’Shomron and plows ahead with his judicial reform, the worst Biden will do is issue “strongly worded” statements from the mouths of his writers. He may threaten to do what amounts to nothing with a very menacing vocabulary and express “displeasure” at “recent events in Israel,” but Bibi has handled much worse.

Another important point to note is that Biden has his hands rather full. Between the war in Ukraine, an unpopular domestic agenda and approval rating, the looming 2024 election cycle and the Republican-led House to contend with, among many other things, Biden doesn’t have the bandwidth nor desire to get involved in a futile effort for peace in the Middle East. This is important as it gives Bibi more wiggle room as to what he can do before drawing the US’s ire and even more room before attracting any meaningful reactions. It is likely that Biden’s public stance on Israel will contain a lot of UN-sounding, not much-accomplishing vocabulary, such as, “we strongly condemn” and not much else. When examining the effects of these statements, they accomplish next to nothing aside from allowing the Biden administration to say they didn’t shirk their responsibilities. A US official recently demonstrated this political doublespeak stating to Politico, “Bibi says he can control his government, so let’s see him do just that.” Reading between the lines, we can see a pattern of all talk with no action taking shape; the US continually deferring its perceived international responsibilities towards Israel to the always indefinite future. This lackadaisical approach is the best situation Bibi could hope for with a Democratic US president. In other words, Biden has quite unintentionally given Bibi the gift to do whatever he wants.

That being said, it is important to acknowledge certain political realities. Bibi’s coalition is flanked to its right by some very right-wing parties, such as Otzama Yehudit and Hatziyonit Hadatit. These two parties make up a significant chunk of the government’s 64-member majority and, rightfully so, have the leverage to make demands of the government. This oftentimes has put and will continue to put Bibi in somewhat of a catch-22 situation; either acquiesce to their requests and face international wrath or resist and risk collapsing his government. To Bibi’s strength, he has managed quite skillfully to walk this political tightrope, often at the expense of left-wing anger. It is important to note that Bibi really doesn’t mind angering the left, and even more so if it enables him to stay in power. Conversely, Biden belongs to the Democratic party which, for the most part, is pro-Israel, but has a nasty habit of giving progressive, vehemently anti-Israel members such as Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib high-ranking positions on committees. Their mere presence in the caucus can sometimes be a real thorn, especially in times like the last congress where Democrats had a razor-thin majority in the House and such members could derail legislation quite easily. More importantly, these members, although small in number, are quite loud and regularly heckle the many members of their party, including the President, for supporting Israel.

I expect the biggest joint accomplishment these two administrations will achieve is not degrading their respective countries' relationships. This may seem like very little but considering the political factions these two leaders are beholden to and given they are near polar opposites ideologically, this is quite impressive. The US and Israel may also make some small progress with the Abraham accords but beyond that, I expect very little in the way of either positive or negative progress, which, compared to the way past administrations progressed their relationship with Israel, is a positive.

The ultimate relationship between the two will be genuine disinterest in one another, if not veiled on the US side by tweets of “genuine concern.” Disinterest should not be confused with disdain however; here the disinterest is a welcome unspoken and unintentional go-ahead for Israel to do what it likes, a refreshing reprieve for the country that is told more than any other what it can and cannot do. This does not mean other countries will behave the same way — the UN will continue with its perfidious attacks against Israel and Europe will continue to act as if it has any morsel of moral standing over the Jews, telling Israel what it can’t do (there is very little they say Israel can do). Meanwhile, many of Israel’s “neighbors” will continue to attempt to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the Earth, disguised as an attempt to wipe out Zionism (as if that’s any better) and Israel will continue to do what it does best; defending herself despite the world’s condemnation.

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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