In the closing days of his final term as Israeli Prime Minister – just over a year ago – Benjamin Netanyahu made no secret of his contempt for President Biden.
Eager to save his own political neck, Netanyahu suggested Biden was weak against some of Israel’s most formidable enemies, Iran and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and vowed to defy a Democrat-led Washington if necessary.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu once again emerged as a likely choice to lead Israel’s government after the country’s fifth election in four years. His right-wing bloc, which includes ultra-Orthodox and extreme nationalists, appeared to have a solid majority in the Knesset, the parliament.
“Today we won a comprehensive vote of confidence,” Netanyahu told jubilant supporters of his Likud party early on Wednesday. Many chanted, “Bibi, King of Israel!” using his familiar nickname.
The results, if sustained, are sure to complicate Israel’s relationship with the United States.
Netanyahu, who already made history as the longest-serving prime minister and is currently on trial for corruption, was famous for Biden’s predecessor, President Trump.
Trump, in turn, lavished praise and favors on Netanyahu — including reversing decades-old US policy by moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — and the alliance of admiration brought Israel closer to the GOP camp in what has always been a bipartisan relationship.
“This must complicate relations with the US government,” said Shira Efron, research director of the US-based Israel Policy Forum. She noted that Biden and Netanyahu have a long personal friendship but an equally long list of disagreements. The problems, she said, will be rooted “both in the person and in politics,” from expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank to reducing democracy and civil liberties.
“Make no mistake: This is a vulnerable time for Israel,” Eric H. Yoffie, an American rabbi and former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told Haaretz on Wednesday.
He and others highlighted Netanyahu’s alliance with Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right Knesset member known for his anti-Arab rhetoric and his proposals to deport Arabs from Israel.
“Ben-Gvir’s emergence as a major political player in Israel will undermine the country’s public image in America, empower Israel’s enemies and offend its friends,” Yoffie said.
For now, US officials are holding back in their public statements, noting the results aren’t likely to be available until Friday, praising Tuesday’s large turnout and promising to work with every Israeli government “on our common interests and values.”
It could be weeks of negotiations before the next Israeli government takes shape. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said it was premature to comment on any potential government official or policy.
However, he described a vision of government that Netanyahu’s critics say is deeply at odds with much of the rhetoric that emerged from the political campaign of Netanyahu and his allies.
“We hope that all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of an open, democratic society, including tolerance and respect for everyone in civil society, especially minorities,” Price said. He reiterated the US commitment to a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel – and “equal measures of security, freedom, justice and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
In addition to a strained relationship with the Biden government, a Netanyahu-led coalition would likely have little interest in negotiations with the Palestinians over land and independence, and could also halt Israel’s expansion of new ties with the Arab Gulf states.
Normalization actually began under Netanyahu, who negotiated the so-called Abraham Accords, which paved the way for trade and business opportunities.
The current Israeli government had hoped to form a military alliance with some of these formerly enemy countries. However, experts said that such an initiative – what some are calling Middle East NATO – would likely be off the table if Netanyahu’s government is seen as too radical or anti-Arab.
Some Gulf governments have insisted that deepening ties would help the Palestinian cause – a justification that seriously undermines Netanyahu’s hardened stance.
“The fact that his coalition is so right-wing is no consolation to the Gulf monarchies,” said Rabie Barakat, an analyst at the American University of Beirut.
“The Emirates, Saudi Arabia, they’re using their soft power to spread this idea that normalization is a brighter future for the region,” he said. “There will be complications with Netanyahu.”
Some of Israel’s geographically closer neighbors are also bracing for a stormy period ahead.
A particularly sensitive case is Lebanon. The two countries have been at war for years but still managed to stake out their respective maritime borders in a landmark US-brokered deal involving Prime Minister Yair Lapid and then-Lebanese President Michel Aoun. It was signed last month and also received the tacit blessing of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia armed group and political party that plays a dominant role in Lebanese politics and went to war against Israel in 2006.
Ahead of the election, Netanyahu criticized the deal, saying it was “illegal” and that if elected he would work to “neutralize” it.
Jordan, too, is likely to see the return of a combative leader whose previous tenure was marked by a nadir in the two nations’ longstanding cooperation on energy, water and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, Islam’s third holiest site not welcome Jordan has custody.
Jordan also has a significant number of Palestinian refugees and is a staunch supporter of a two-state solution.
Relations had improved rapidly after Netanyahu’s fall, and Lapid paid a rare visit to Jordan’s King Abdullah II at his palace in Amman in July.
But Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister who served as ambassador to Israel in the 1990s, said the return of a right-wing government with “racist elements” would require a “serious reassessment” of relations.
“This is obviously a government that does not take the peace process seriously at all and certainly has no intention of engaging in any negotiations, let alone withdrawing from occupied territories, and will treat occupied Arabs and even Arab citizens of Israel in a racist manner “, he said.
“The election of this government will poison the atmosphere in the region,” Muasher said.
Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute, said Israel and the US may also have disagreements over perceived threats to Israeli democracy.
Netanyahu’s coalition partners have called for reforms that would weaken the independence of the judiciary by blocking the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to reverse parliament’s work by repealing laws. Leaders of Netanyahu’s Religious Zionism faction, led by Ben-Gvir, have also expressed their support for removing from the Penal Code the offense of “fraud and breach of trust” that Netanyahu faces in his corruption trial, saying that he was used to target politicians.
“If democracy in Israel deteriorates, the US may not be happy about it,” Rahat said.
In his corruption trial, Netanyahu is accused of using his position to promote regulations that benefit a media outlet financially in exchange for positive coverage. He has protested his innocence.
Ibrahim Dalalsha, the director of the Horizon Center’s Palestinian political research group in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said Netanyahu’s possible return to power leaves Palestinians little hope of peace talks.
“It’s a déjà vu for the political stalemate under Netanyahu,” he said.
Israeli voter Abraham Granit, a retired 85-year-old army colonel who lives in downtown Raanana, was more optimistic. He said he was not concerned about US-Israel relations, noting that the countries have been strong allies for decades.
“The relationship between Israel and the US in general does not depend on who is prime minister,” he said.
But Granit, who voted for the Religious Zionism faction, said he would beg Biden to support Israel’s policy of building more settlements in the occupied West Bank, where he has two children and 17 grandchildren living in one such settlement. The Biden administration views settlements as an obstacle to peace, and they are illegal by much of the world.
Miller reported from Raanana, Bulos from Beirut and Wilkinson from Washington.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-11-02/a-netanyahu-government-would-probably-clash-with-the-biden-administration A Netanyahu government would probably clash with the Biden administration