PM’s failure to secure calm on Israeli front hastens inevitable breakdown in US ties

Despite huge political differences between the United States and the new hardline government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Biden administration made it clear at the get-go in December that it was still interested in and committed to strengthening ties with Israel. Is.

Joe Biden leads a Democratic Party whose Sympathy There is a gradual shift away from Israel, but the US president continues to disassociate himself from that trend, identifying as a Zionist when it may not be the most politically wisest characterization.

When he called the White House to congratulate Netanyahu on his November election victory Said Biden “affirmed the strength of the bilateral partnership and underlined his unwavering support for Israel’s security,” adding that the president “looks forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values.”

But there was somewhat of a caveat, which was explained by Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, several weeks after Netanyahu returned to power.

“The prime minister has told us that he wants to do big things. And we want to do great things, too,” Nides Said The Times of Israel refers to Netanyahu’s goals of expanded Israel–US cooperation against Iran and an Israel–Saudi Arabia normalization agreement.

“But if we want to achieve those things, we can’t wake up and start a fire in someone’s backyard. So they have to effectively manage the things we care about.”

Demonstrators protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies during his visit on March 16, 2023. (Odd Anderson / AFP)

The nuptials set those ground rules after both countries had already suffered a diplomatic blow over the matter to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. visit Flashpoint Temple Mount in Jan.

But those hiccups have since continued on an almost weekly basis, as Netanyahu’s government has gone full steam ahead with radical changes to the judiciary and efforts to push Israel’s presence beyond the Green Line, its far-right is due in no small part to the collection of right minister whose functions and incendiary comment regarding Palestinians That has quickly eaten up the patience of the Biden administration.

Desperation reached its peak in America on Monday night after the Knesset incident a way out The Disengagement Law, which allows Israelis to return to four settlement areas in the northern West Bank that were vacated during the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

The administration began by issuing a lengthy statement at Tuesday’s State Department press briefing, tease The law as a “provocative” violation of commitments to both current US officials and former President George W. Bush, which recognized the legitimacy of settlement blocks near the Green Line in exchange for Israel’s willingness to vacate four settlements located deep in the West. agreed to give. Edge.

But America then went further than that in 13 years, which was immediate summoned Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog for a meeting with State Department Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman where the No. 2 US diplomat was held in Jerusalem for what he said was a violation of commitments made just two days earlier in Sharm El . -Sheikh meeting The US official briefed on the meeting, where the Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to refrain from actions that could escalate tensions.

Another senior US official pointed out that while the focus of Herzog’s dressing-down on Tuesday was the repeal of the Disengagement Law, the decision to summon Israel’s ambassador was much more than just a law.

Youths sit at a water tank painted orange to symbolize the movement against disengagement in the West Bank settlement of Homesh, June 12, 2007.

“The reality is there is a lot of stuff on the boat,” the senior US official told The Times of Israel, explaining that the combination of the dismemberment law repeal, radical judicial overhaul plans, new settlement announcements and comments made by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has proved to be so much for the administration that just one more condemnation from the State Department is not enough.

“It’s too much for the system [to handle] Every day,” said the senior official.

Hours before the Knesset was to pass the legislation that sparked the crisis, Biden phoned The senior US official said Netanyahu so that the president could, in his own voice, share the growing concerns of Israel’s most ardent supporters in America about the coalition’s attempt to curb the power of the High Court of Justice.

“The president was articulating the expatriate community’s concern on this issue,” the US official said, adding that Biden reiterated his call for Netanyahu to make his transition gain consensus support.

An invitation to the White House was not made during the call, and the senior US official told Reuters it would not be offered in the near future.

“Not because of us, but because he doesn’t want to come until it is resolved,” the official said. ,

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then US Vice President Joe Biden speak before a meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. (AP/Michelle Euler)

“But of course, the president will have him. He likes Bibi.”

An Israeli official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, speculated that the Biden administration has no interest in escalating tensions.

The Israeli official said, “This is not the Obama administration where at times it felt like America was seeking conflict with us.” “Here, they largely want to avoid the issue so they can focus on higher priorities.”

The analysis was consistent with how the senior US official described the administration’s agenda for the coming weeks on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

“We want peace – calm on judicial reform, calm on Ramadan. We want peace so we can work on the issues together.” the senior official said.

Because when that calm breaks down, as it has over the past several weeks, the pressure mounts on the Biden administration to get tough on Israel.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs on March 22, 2023 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Testifying before the Senate on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was pressed by Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen on what the administration was prepared to do if the violations of commitments made this week in Sharm el-Sheikh continued.

Van Hollen charged, “I feel like we look very, very weak when we constantly make statements with no consequences.”

Blinken avoided answering directly, further demonstrating the gulf between Biden and the rest of his party, which has little patience for Netanyahu’s government.

But then the secretary of state offered a revealing reflection: “Both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority want us to be engaged in helping them try and achieve pacification.”

“But if one or both parties are not doing what we believe is necessary [to restore calm]It would be difficult – or perhaps even futile – for us to be able to do that,” he continued, indicating that the US had no other choice than to throw in the towel on its own and leave Israel and the Palestinians to fight it out. Cannot find option .self.

A third US official said, “If we’re being honest, we knew this breakdown would happen eventually.” “I didn’t think it would happen so soon.”