New Israeli government an ‘opportunity’ for Biden

Room for US nuclear diplomacy with Iran, economic accords with Arab states and a White House visit for Bennett seen ahead, say analysts.

Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, while pro-settler, will likely be easier to work with for the Biden Administration than his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

The new government in Israel headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett presents an opportunity for an easing of political tensions between Israel and the United States as President Joe Biden seeks a return to the Iran nuclear agreement, analysts said.

“Biden has caught a lucky break,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.

“Biden has bought himself space and time. Bennett is not looking for a fight,” Miller told Al Jazeera.

Unlikely to yield any major progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the change in government could help set the stage for limited agreements with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority while allowing for expansion of economic accords with Arab states, which would be wins for a Biden administration more focused on challenges elsewhere, analysts told Al Jazeera.

The new coalition was voted into the Knesset on June 13 by the narrowest of margins with 60 of 120 Knesset members in favour of the new government, led by Bennett of the Yamina party and Yair Lapid from Yesh Atid, and 59 opposed with one abstention.

The coalition includes six other parties from the left and right of Israeli politics including for the first time a Palestinian Arab party, and brings to an end the 12-year tenure of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While the new Israeli government’s position is tenuous and Netanyahu has sworn to overturn it, the change is welcome in Washington and, if it lasts, White House staff will be looking at dates for a state visit by Bennett to meet Biden.

“The Biden Administration is looking forward to a reset,” said Hassan El-Tayyab, lead lobbyist on Middle East policy for the Quaker Friends Committee on National Legislation.

“There was a contentious relationship between the Obama-Biden administration, and the Biden-Harris administration with Bibi Netanyahu,” El-Tayyab said.

Domestically, Biden is navigating between a Republican Party that is avowedly pro-Israel and a newly empowered progressive wing of the Democratic Party that is increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

If the US is successful in winning a return to the Iran nuclear agreement, which prevents Tehran from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for US sanctions relief, Netanyahu would have sought to generate political opposition in the US that Bennett would not.

Biden telephoned the new Israeli prime minister to offer “warm congratulations”, the White House said in a readout of the call on June 13.

“The leaders agree that they and their teams would consult closely on all matters related to regional security, including Iran,” the White House statement said.

“The president also conveyed that his administration intends to work closely with the Israel government on efforts to advance peace, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he has spoken to Yair Lapid, in line to be the next Prime Minister in Bennett’s coalition and who will be Foreign Minister of Israel.

Netanyahu had openly challenged former President Barack Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran and vociferously opposed the US-led international nuclear agreement reached with Iran in 2015.

At the invitation of US Republicans, Netanyahu had given a speech to Congress opposing the deal and urging US legislators to reject any agreement, which many Democrats at the time saw as an attempt by Netanyahu to undermine President Obama’s authority over US foreign policy.

More recently, Netanyahu had allied himself closely with former President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal that Biden is now trying to revive.

A sixth round of multilateral talks between Iran and world powers was to have begun over the weekend, just days ahead of an Iranian presidential election that will bring new leadership to power in Tehran.

Source: Al Jazeera