Israel Netanyahu (La Presse)

What Does the Biden Presidency Mean for Israel?

It took Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twelve hours before congratulating President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris. Even though the writing of President Donald Trump’s defeat had been on the wall, Netanyahu needed a moment to accept that the time of generous gifts and the president’s almost undivided attention has come to an end.

Certain policies affecting Israel are about to change, however, under Joe Biden, the Jewish state will not become irrelevant.

Netanyahu on Trump: ‘Israel’s Best Friend Ever in the White House’

Netanyahu, who did not get along well with President Obama, chose his words deliberately when he assessed what the Trump presidency meant to his country: “Israel’s best friend ever in the White House.”

And understandably so. For in the past four years, the Trump administration has strengthened the Jewish state’s position in the Middle East to an arguably unprecedented extent.

Trump advocated Israel’s sovereignty over the controversial Golan Heights, which the country captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. Also, in contrast to Obama and Biden, Trump approved the building and expansion of Jewish communities in the West Bank. Trump also kept his campaign promise and moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, his Middle East plan, the “deal of the century,” was also widely seen as beneficial to Israel.

Trump’s Crackdown on the Palestinian Authority and Brokering of Arab-Israeli Peace Deals

The White House also demonstratively suspended its financial contributions to the Palestinian Authority and its share of United Nations aid to Palestine. Most recently, Trump brokered “normalization agreements” with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, strengthening Israel’s position and further isolated the Palestinians.

Hence it does not come as a surprise that Israel is mainly pro-Trump. Indeed, according to a National Democracy Institute survey, 70 percent of Jewish Israelis had wanted another term for him.

Biden is a Dedicated Supporter of Israel

However, not all is lost for the Jewish state. Those who feel Biden could engage in a spree of revocation, reversing all of Trump’s policies, or even question America’s unconditional support for Israel do not seem to know the President-elect and his devotion to Israel.

Biden has already made it clear that he will not reverse the decision on America’s embassy in Jerusalem. Nor will the Golan Heights be up for discussion.

Biden’s commitment to Israel goes so far that he applauded the agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. He called the deal a “historic breakthrough” and pledged to convince more countries in the region to sign similar agreements.

What About the Two-State Solution?

However, Biden and Harris do support the two-state solution. The annexation plans of parts of the West Bank, which Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had, should thus be off the table under his administration.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu does not need to fear any demands of significant concessions to the Palestinians from Biden, as Obama attempted.

Biden made this clear during the Democratic primaries when Senator Bernie Sanders – a notorious critic of Israel – suggested that the US use its Israeli support as leverage and seek concessions in favor of the Palestinians.

Biden’s answer was concise and unmistakable, calling Sanders’ idea “bizarre.”

How Will Biden’s Policies Toward Israel Differ from Trump’s?

However, Biden’s policies will differ regarding a reversal of the Trump-instigated withdrawal of economic and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Moreover, Biden has also pledged to reopen the US Consulate in East Jerusalem and permit representation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington.

Accordingly, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas quickly announced that he could hardly wait to work with Joe Biden.

Assessing the Biden-Netanyahu Relationship

What will also likely change is the relationship between Netanyahu and the White House. While Biden and Netanyahu have known each other for over 40 years, both Biden and the Democratic Party have not forgotten how Netanyahu fully sided with the Republican party in recent years. Netanyahu also openly supported Mitt Romney in 2012 and railed alongside Republicans against the Iran nuclear deal during his speech in Congress in 2015.

Netanyahu’s open dislike of Obama broke one basic rule of Israeli and American politics: fostering consistently good relations with Republicans and Democrats, like all Israeli prime ministers before him.

However, a US paradigm shift away from unconditional support for Israel towards prioritizing the Palestinians is as inconceivable under Biden as it would have been under Trump, even though the tone and diplomatic approach are about to change.

Moreover, with Biden’s pledge to tackle the coronavirus and help the economy regain traction, the new administration’s focus will undoubtedly shift towards the domestic side for the foreseeable future.