By Kit Roberts
DONALD Trump’s presidency sprouted many contentious issues, but his diplomatic approach to Israel was one of his more notorious controversies.
The decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel and moving the US embassy to the ancient city in 2018 was viewed by many as a blow to a two-state solution and a vindication of the aggressive policies pursued by Israel’s hard-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
This dysfunctional legacy will continue into the next administration, with President Elect Joe Biden declaring before the election that it would be politically impractical to move the embassy back to Tel Aviv.
Trump’s administration has been noted in its courting of the beleaguered Israeli PM, who is currently facing his fourth election in two years.
The outgoing US president has given Netanyahu some PR victories, notably in the public normalisation of relations with several Arab states.
Although a seemingly large breakthrough, many of these states already took a pragmatic approach in their diplomacy with Israel, and public acknowledgement of this was not the revelation Trump and Netanyahu declared it.
Despite the huge diplomatic favours, Netanyahu publicly sought to distance himself from the outgoing president when it became clear his position was in jeopardy.
Still, the Israeli Prime Minister will likely revert to type when it comes to dealing with Biden.
For Israel’s part, Netanyahu has made little secret of supporting the Republican Party in the past.
Lior Sternfeld, a lecturer in history and Jewish studies at Penn State, said Netanyahu will continue to court the GOP, as he did under the Obama administration.
“Netanyahu is going to be Netanyahu,” he told Redaction Politics.
“You could see ever since he was elected in 2009 the kind of relationship that he had with President Obama that he all the time he tried to present Israel as a bipartisan issue in the US, yet he courted with the Republicans non stop, and in 2012 it came short only of endorsing Mitt Romney in the elections.
“So, everything is going to be the same.”
The international challenges Biden faces make Israel less of a priority, but Mr Sternfeld suspects that the US may nonetheless overplay the importance of Israel.
He said: “I wish, this is wishful thinking, that Biden would be less considerate of Netanyahu in the future in terms of renegotiating with Iran with the nuclear agreement and arms deals in the Middle East and so on.
“Unfortunately I think that Biden is going to do what every US administration has done in the past fifty years, and this is to over-consider the position of Israel vis a vis other domestic issues in the US or globally.”
Biden is inheriting a country in crisis from his predecessor. In addition to domestic issues, Biden will need to focus on meeting China’s challenge, as well as countering Russian influence internationally.
In the Middle East, Biden’s focus is most likely to be on the Islamic Republic of Iran, likely seeking a return to the nuclear deal brokered during the Obama administration.
Whilst Israel may prove an ally in countering Iran regionally, it is unlikely that Biden’s vision will share much ideological ground with the hard-right Likud party that is dominating Israeli politics.
The challenges Biden faces in his government’s relationship with Israel may be in diffusing the mounting border tensions with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, but it is unclear if this will be a part of his approach towards Iran.
Palestinian civil rights are unlikely to be a priority.
Despite a potential change in Israeli leadership, the right is likely to remain the dominant political force for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, any new leadership may not share Netanyahu’s openness in diplomacy.
Israel has historically held an important place in US policy in the Middle East, but pragmatically, Biden will have to prioritise elsewhere to meet the challenges his administration faces.
Redaction cannot survive without your help. Support us for as little as $1 a month on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RedactionPolitics.