If Netanyahu is ousted, what future for US-Israel relations?
After 12 consecutive years in power, and 15 years in total, Netanyahu is on the verge of being ousted by a governing coalition of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties, including for the first time an Arab party. The diverse group of opponents have come together primarily out of a desire to replace Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, and end a destabilizing cycle of Israeli election rehearsals after four inconclusive elections in just two years.
âTwo thousand years ago a Jewish state fell here due to internal strife. It won’t happen again – not under my watch, âsaid Naftali Bennett, the far-right ultra-nationalist who has the most to gain from the new government. At 49, he is set to become prime minister of Israel for the next two years, taking over from his former mentor Netanyahu, under whom he most recently served as defense minister. Bennett will pass the baton from Prime Minister to centrist Yair Lapid over the past two years.
The end of Netanyahu’s tenure and the rise of Bennett’s new, diverse government may reshape Israel, but this is unlikely to drastically change US-Israel relations. Biden has pledged his firm commitment to Israel’s security, not wavering even amid mounting pressure from the international community and his own party’s liberal wing during the recent 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
As the White House and State Department observe the political change unfolding in Jerusalem, they signal that the United States’ alliance with Israel will remain strong in the post-Netanyahu era.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday during the visit of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz: âWhatever happens, whatever government is in power, our unwavering support, our unfailing support for Israel will remain.
But the fragile coalition government, with alternating right and center prime ministers, could likely be more respectful of Biden, lacking a strong and secure right-wing leader in power and able to roll back, according to several Israeli analysts. Bennett may be openly more to the right than Netanyahu, but it will be difficult for him to control the political agenda and foreign policy like his predecessor did. Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party will occupy just seven seats in parliament, while Netanyahu’s Likud party has dominated as the largest party, with at least four times as many seats.
In any case, the new Israeli government should focus on domestic issues first. Coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, the priority will be to stimulate economic recovery, invest in infrastructure and heal political divisions, which are deep enough to threaten the rapid downfall of this so-called âchangeâ government.
“The only common problem that all potential partners of this government can agree on is that they do not want to see Netanyahu as prime minister. Without Netanyahu, this government will not be formed,” said Assaf Shapira, director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Political Reform Program, adding that its success “depends primarily on the nature of the relationship between leaders and parties – and the willingness to work together.”
Bennett, a former tech entrepreneur, rejects the creation of a Palestinian state and supports Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. He positioned himself to the right of Netanyahu and headed the council representing West Bank settlers before entering national politics.
Despite ultra-nationalist Bennett at the helm, liberals in Israel, the United States and the world are seeing progress in his government. For the first time in Israel’s history, a small Arab Islamist party will be part of the ruling coalition. It is a level of political cooperation – even integration – never seen before in the corridors of power.
It was Benjamin Netanyahu who first courted the Arab Ra’am Party after needing its four seats following the March elections. After demonizing Arabs for political gain in 2015, Netanyahu’s about-face helped his opponents take a historic step to include them in government. The Arab party will be part of a center-left bloc in government, including Lapid’s big Yesh Atid party, which is expected to restrict any far-right action against Palestinians in the West Bank.
This probably means that there will be “no major leaps in Palestinian issues, but no drift to the right either,” according to David Makovsky, a member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Biden’s White House would welcome that, especially after facing a Middle East crisis so quickly and showing deep reluctance to get involved in the intractable, decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Liberal advocacy groups are already urging the administration to use what they say is greater power over this new government to discourage construction in Israeli settlements, seek compromises with the Palestinians and avoid stoking tensions with the Palestinians. expulsions of Arab residents from East Jerusalem. A deportation order in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood helped spark the recent spate of deadly fighting between Israel and Hamas. Israel’s High Court will rule on the appeal of Arab families later this month.
âWhile we have good reason to hope that he would be much more moderate and reasonable than his predecessor in many areas, we also cannot expect him to act to end the intolerable status quo,â unjust and worsening occupation with endless and recurrent violence, “he added. said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal organization for the defense of Jews in the United States
Some of the leaders of the new coalition have also expressed less opposition to Biden’s diplomatic efforts to revert to the Iran nuclear deal, including Gantz, the Blue and White party leader and Netanyahu’s defense minister – a post he will retain in the new government. This softer tone could give Biden the necessary political cover in the United States if he lifts sanctions on Iran, but only if his administration continues to meet Israel’s security needs as well.
To that end, US military support for Israel will continue unabated, “including with respect to the resupply of the Iron Dome.” Nothing about it will change, even if there is a change of government, âconfirmed Price.
Some progressive Democrats, on the other hand, have called for a halt to US military assistance and demanded that Israel be investigated for war crimes over its airstrikes in Gaza during its conflict with Hamas. last month. But just this week, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers came up with a billion dollar defense plan for Israel.
âAmerica’s eyes and ears are Israel,â Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said on Monday, standing next to Netanyahu in Jerusalem. “No one does more to protect America from radical Islam than our friends in Israel.”
As the conversation has changed within the Democratic Party in Washington, restoring strong bipartisan support for Israel is one way for the Bennett government to move away from Netanyahu, including the 2014 speech to Congress denouncing the Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran has left scars. Guided by Netanyahu, Trump shifted US support for Israel further to the right, including determining that Israeli settlements were not inherently illegal and recognizing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights and Jerusalem as its capital.
By contrast, Lapid has often spoken of mending ties with Democrats and restoring the bipartisan nature of support for Israel – and he would find a partner for that in Biden. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, Biden is one of Israel’s long-standing supporters in Congress, working with every prime minister since Israel’s fourth Golda Meir.