After a decade of Bibi, how will Bennett approach his first visit to the United States? | Middle East News
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, just two months in office, will meet with US President Joe Biden on a visit in which the two are expected to attempt to restore relations between the Israeli leadership and Biden’s Democratic Party.
Bennett’s first overseas trip as head of a diverse – and precarious – coalition government also marks the first time in 12 years that the United States will welcome an Israeli prime minister who is not Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party whose belief in his unique understanding of the public and US politics, analysts say, has seen headline-grabbing stunts and an erosion of once-warm relations between the Israeli leaders and the Democratic Party.
“I think Bennett’s approach will be more low-key than Netanyahu’s. He wants to work behind the scenes to express Israeli positions, not by being noticed in Congress, or on CNN or Fox News, ”said Al Dov Waxman, professor of political science and director of the Nazarian Center at UCLA Y&S. for Israeli studies. Jazeera.
“The focus is now really on showing that this opens a new page in US-Israel relations in the post-Netanyahu era and in some ways resetting relations – especially with Democrats,” he said. he declared.
Yet Bennett, a staunch supporter of Jewish settlements and the annexation of most of the West Bank and an opponent of the two-state solution to the conflict, and who sits further to the right than pro-colony right-wing Netanyahu, remains. an uneasy bearer of a reset relationship with a changing Democratic Party.
Over the past decade, progressives within the party – and the American general public – have become increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and skeptics of Washington’s once sacrosanct unconditional aid. to Israel.
Nonetheless, members of the Democratic leadership remain staunch supporters of the United States’ unyielding support for Israel and “want to avoid the impression that Democrats are fighting against Israel,” Waxman said.
“There is a diligent desire on both sides to emphasize or project that this is a very strong relationship, a strong alliance between the United States and Israel and one that enjoys bipartisan support for the states. “United”, he added.
Unique relationship with the United States
Both Netanyahu and Bennett have close ties to the United States, but have become prime ministers under very different circumstances that have informed or likely will inform how they exploit those ties.
Bennett, who had once been a close ally of Netanyahu, is the son of Americans who immigrated to Israel in the late 1960s. He spent his childhood commuting between Israel, the United States and Canada and co-founded and then sold an American technology company.
His right-wing Yamina party came to power in June as part of a complex eight-party political coalition that will see Yair Lapid, the most centrist leader of the Yesh Atid party, become prime minister in two years.
Netanyahu spent part of his youth and high school years outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and then attended college and worked in Boston, Massachusetts.
He then worked at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, before moving to New York as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988. He was Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999 , before forming a right-wing coalition government. left in 2009.
“Netanyahu has always bragged about knowing how to get in touch with Americans and American politicians,” Guy Ziv, associate professor at the School of International Service at the American University, told Al Jazeera.
“He speaks with an American inflection, has long boasted about really having the United States in a way.”
This self-perception fueled a strategy toward the United States that often saw Netanyahu call on the American public and lawmakers to sidestep pressure from American leaders, he said.
“It was no secret that he had really bad chemistry with the president [Barack] Obama almost from day one and tried to undermine it publicly on several occasions, ”Ziv said. “In 2012, when he invited Mitt Romney, then GOP challenger, to Israel, it was in the middle of the presidential election assuming Romney would win the White House.
“And then several years later, in 2015, he came to the United States at the invitation of [then Republican House Speaker John] Boehner to address the joint session of Congress, which aimed to thwart the Iran nuclear deal, ”he said.
“The US relationship with Israel has become a very partisan issue under his leadership. “
While Netanyahu saw himself as the only “hub” between the United States and Israel, Bennett is unlikely to replicate his loudest strategy, UCLA’s Waxman said.
“Bennett also speaks very well-accented American English. His parents are from the United States. He also thinks he has a good understanding of American policy in the United States, ”Waxman said.
“But even if he had the same ability as Netanyahu and even if he wanted [replicate his strategy], this prime minister is at the head of a very jarring coalition, “he said.” He does not have the kind of leeway or leeway in Israeli foreign policy that Netanyahu had. “
“It won’t be a relationship that focuses as much as on the chemistry between the two leaders… but rather as a much larger set of relationships between the two governments,” he said.
Palestinian issues sidelined
The reality of Bennett’s precarious position at home is likely to keep Palestine high on the agenda in Washington, even as deadly protests against the continued Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and renewed Israeli bombardments have again. raised the prospect of further escalation.
Friction between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza has built up in the three months since an unrelenting 11-day Israeli offensive killed 265 people in Gaza and 13 in Israel.
Instead, Bennett stressed that he would address Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s continued opposition to relaunching the Iran nuclear deal, an area with greater consensus within his coalition. He is due to meet with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday.
“He really put [Palestinian issues] on the back burner and instead focus on issues for which there is much more consensus in Israeli society, ”said Ziv of the American University, adding that whether Biden can raise issues like strengthening the Palestinian Authority or asking Bennett to refrain from expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, “I don’t think he’s going to press too hard.”
And while Biden and Bennett may discuss disagreements over US plans to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem – which would strengthen ties with Palestinians demoted under former President Donald Trump – they will likely try to deal with the situation behind the scenes. , Waxman said.
“I think politically there is a sort of understanding in Washington of Bennett’s position and the potential fragility of his coalition,” he said, “and the last thing the Biden administration would want is this is to do something that would destabilize the Bennett coalition and potentially lead to another election and Netanyahu’s return.