The Israeli Election and U.S.-Israel Ties

**Two important elections that took place over the course of the summer: Israel’s election took place on March 23 and Iran’s election on June 18. Both elections led to changes in leadership. This series will explore how these elections and changes in leadership will affect U.S. relations with its closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, and one of its primary adversaries, Iran.

On June 13, after 12 years as Israel’s conservative prime minister, the Israeli parliament voted Benjamin Netanyahu out of power by a very thin margin, 60-59. A coalition government of left-wing, right-wing, centrist, and Arab parties led by Naftali Bennett, a conservative from the Yamina party, and Yair Lapid, a centrist from Yesh Atid party, replaced Mr. Netanyahu in a power-sharing agreement in which Mr. Bennett serves as the prime minister and Mr. Lapid assumes that office in 2023. Many analysts have wondered if the Israeli government led by Mr. Bennett would fare better with U.S. President Joe. Biden, a Democrat, than with Mr. Netanyahu in charge.

Upon election, Mr. Biden reached out to congratulate both leaders, noting that he looked forward to strengthening the partnership between the two countries. Moreover, Mr. Bennett’s first foreign trip as prime minister took him to Washington, D.C. to meet with Mr. Biden, a visit which Mr. Bennett employed as a chance to reset relations. Both sides are eager to improve the partnership and, as a result, the change in Israeli leadership will allow the United States and Israel to keep tensions in the relationship in check.

The Iranian Nuclear Deal

One issue which could cause tension between the United States and Israel is the Iran nuclear deal, which was brokered by former U.S. President Barack Obama, along with the P5+1, in 2015. Mr. Bennett, in alignment with Mr. Netanyahu, publicly reiterated his opposition to the nuclear deal in his first address to the Israeli parliament: “Renewal of the nuclear agreement with Iran is a mistake, an error that would again grant legitimization to one of the darkest ad violent regimes in the world.” Mr. Biden, who was Vice President during the Obama administration, played a prominent role in spearheading the deal through Congress in 2015 and, since taking office, has made it clear that reviving the nuclear deal was one of his top foreign policy objectives.

While Prime Minister Bennett and President Biden have opposing views on this issue, the Iran nuclear deal will not serve as a catalyst for tension between the United States and Israel as both sides share the same overarching goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. While Israel and the United States may disagree on the how, they do agree on the what. And for this reason, even though both sides see the issue differently, the Iran nuclear deal will not strain the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The Palestine Question

Another potentially tension-causing issue is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the one hand, Prime Minister Bennett’s views differ very little from those held by his predecessor. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Mr. Bennett noted he would not “allow the occupied territory to become a sovereign Palestinian state” while also announcing that he would not attempt to annex the West Bank. On the other hand, President Biden fully supports Palestinian statehood. Mr. Biden has also expressed that “Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” a relatively new phenomena when compared to previous administration’s rhetoric.

For an issue that is usually a thorn in the side of all three parties – the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians – this likely won’t strain the relationship between the United States and Israel as Mr. Biden has shown little appetite for pursuing an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, neither Mr. Bennett nor Mr. Lapid are likely to touch this issue either, choosing instead to focus on domestic reforms and avoid any moves on any controversial international issues.  

Simple Ideology

Simple ideology also stands to be an issue that could cause tension in the U.S.-Israel relationship. During his time in office, Mr. Netanyahu was not shy in favoring Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, over Democrats. This is also evidenced in his strained relationships with former President Obama, a Democrat, and President Biden. One particular event that enraged former President Obama and then-Vice President Biden occurred when Mr. Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress in 2015 in an effort to recruit Congressional support to oppose the Iran nuclear deal. In this act, Mr. Netanyahu exploited political divisions within the United States and circumvented the Obama administration.

Both Israelis and Americans criticized Mr. Netanyahu for damaging American bipartisan support of Israel. In fact, many in the Democratic Party, including liberal democrats as well as long-standing, staunch supporters of Israel, suggest that tacit, unconditional support of Israel may no longer be appropriate. Moreover, some fear that the right-wing Mr. Bennett, frequently referred to as an ultranationalist, may pursue a similar course as Mr. Netanyahu and antagonize his American counterparts. As a result, Mr. Bennett has affirmed that his government will pursue a close partnership with both Democrats and Republicans alike. Despite leading a right-wing party, Prime Minister Bennett understands how important U.S. support is for any Israeli leader and will not rock the boat.

Conclusion

Many analysts have wondered if President Biden and Prime Minister Bennett will get on better than Mr. Biden and former Prime Minister Netanyahu However, the change in Israeli leadership will allow the United States and Israel to keep tensions in the relationship at bay, even with the thorniest issues like the Iran nuclear deal, the Palestinian question, and the ideological differences between the two leaders. Despite some general disagreements on the major issues facing both countries, the United States and Israel are largely in agreement on major foreign policy issues and understand that the partnership between the two countries is invaluable.

The Royal Shakeup in Jordan

In early April, the Jordanian government accused King Abdullah II’s half-brother, Prince Hamzeh, of “destabilizing Jordan’s security.” That weekend, Jordan’s king charged Prince Hamzeh with attempting to stage a coup, supported by several members of his inner circle and foreign backing. The prince, not surprisingly, denied any involvement in the plot, though he did take the opportunity to point out the graft that plagues Jordan’s government.

The United States, meanwhile, is monitoring the situation closely and quickly emphasized its support for the Jordanian king. The State Department’s spokesman recently reiterated Jordan’s importance to the United States, stating that “King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our [the United States’] full support.” President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke with King Abdullah to express his support and strong bilateral relations as well.

In all the turmoil and uncertainty, why is Jordan such a close friend to the U.S.?

A Stable Ally

The United States has long considered Jordan to be a close friend and partner through both Republican and Democratic administrations, lauding the Hashemite Kingdom as a bastion of stability in arguably the most volatile region in the world. Jordan was largely free from the political unrest and upheaval that raged through the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring a decade ago. Moreover, Jordan is a long-time key counterterrorism partner, globally supporting U.S. forces and security operations.

Jordan has also been a major partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and served as a “key overland conduit to Iraq” during the Iraq War. Jordan has absorbed over 1 million refugees who fled Syria during the decade-long civil war, according to Jordanian officials.

In the past, Jordan has sided with the Sunni Arab states against Iran. This proves significant to the United States as the Sunni Arab states and the United States have historically enjoyed close relations and each country views Iran as a primary adversary.

Since Jordan and the United States share close ties, recent events and any resulting instability in the Hashemite Kingdom could potentially impact the Biden administration’s approach to the larger Middle East.

Biden Wants Out

For one, Biden is “deprioritizing” the Middle East in favor of concentrating U.S. foreign policy more on the great power rivalries with China and Russia and the myriad domestic problems the U.S. is facing at home. Like the Obama and Trump administrations, despite failing to extricate the United States from the forever wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other commitments which have dominated U.S. Middle East policy, Biden hoped to reduce U.S. focus on and commitments to the Middle East.

To deprioritize the Middle East, the United States needs its key allies in the region onboard. When asked about the United States’ closest allies and friends in the Middle East, most analysts talk about Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and, increasingly less, Turkey. This list should always include Jordan.

Since Jordan is considered by the United States and the West to be one of the consistently stable countries in the region, the U.S. has been able to take this fact for granted. However, the royal shakeup in Jordan could impact the region’s stability. Beyond that, instability resulting from King Abdullah’s latest skirmish with his half-brother could hinder Biden’s plans to downgrade the Middle East’s centrality in U.S. foreign policy.   

The Two-State Solution

The Biden administration has indicated they wish to “re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The two-state solution has long remained the only viable solution to this conflict and calls for granting the Palestinians an independent state alongside Israel. This arduous and tedious project, which has thwarted many presidents, will not be possible unless Jordan is involved.

Jordan is a critical player in the United States’ pursuit of a two-state solution. Firstly, Jordan was one of the first Arab states to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, and has maintained relatively friendly relations ever since. Conversely, Jordan is also a “key interlocutor with Palestinians.” Today, Jordan is home to millions of Palestinians who fled to the Hashemite Kingdom after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967.

As the New York Times recently noted, Jordan “is important to any future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.” If Jordan were to succumb to chaos and instability, whether due to the recent flare up or another set of events, the prospects of a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians would seem even more remote than they already are.

Conclusion

The recent tussle within the Jordanian royal family seems to have mostly subsided. However, this series of events is a good reminder to the United States just how much a relatively stable country in an otherwise volatile region can easily upset the fragile balance. This is especially true as the Biden administration has plans to focus less on the Middle East and perhaps find a solution to the very complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict.