With Benjamin Netanyahu sworn in as Israel’s prime minister, what policies will his government pursue, and what will this mean for relations with the United States?
Israel’s new government will work to advance the Abraham Accords. Following repeated pledges to clinch a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu stated at his first cabinet meeting that his government’s goal was to “dramatically expand the circle of peace.” And several in his new cabinet are sympathetic.
Netanyahu appointed Ron Dermer as strategic affairs minister, and has tasked him with striking a deal with Saudi Arabia. Dermer played a key role in advancing the deals that the Trump administration had brokered between Israel and UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. While he was not well liked by the Obama administration, current US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides has voiced the opinion that he believes the two of them can work well together.
Netanyahu appointed Eli Cohen as the foreign minister, who was also integral in negotiating the previous Abraham Accords. Cohen recently stated that it “is not a question of if, but when” more countries will join the Abraham Accords, and has voiced support of multiple other countries joining the Accords in the past. He also announced that a second Negev Summit will take place in Morocco in March. Cohen led Israel’s first delegation to Sudan.
Furthermore, new cabinet members Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich stated that they would not oppose a deal normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Even outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid expressed optimismregarding the Saudi track.
However, the Biden administration has yet to deliver on expanding the Abraham Accords beyond the countries that the Trump administration had secured. Oman’s recent vote to expand its boycott against Israel, a recent statement by Qatar opposing the new Israeli government, and the Biden administration’s continued hostility towards the Saudi governmentindicate that the Biden administration faces an uphill battle on expanding the Abraham Accords.
The Biden administration did not endorse the Abraham Accords that strongly in its recent statements congratulating Israel’s new government. The White House referred to it indirectly if at all, stating that “The United States is working to promote a region that’s increasingly integrated, prosperous, and secure, with benefits for all of its people.” Blinken made similar oblique references to the Accords, stating that the US supports the Negev Forum, and that the US will work “with the new Israeli government to promote peace, security, and prosperity in the region,” and to continue to promote “a vision of Israel at peace with its neighbors.” Blinken also failed to advocate for Sudan to lean into the Abraham Accords in his press statement recently commemorating Sudan National Day.
Netanyahu mentioned that his first priority of his new government will be “…to block Iran. This is an existential question.” In a surprising level of transparency, outgoing defense minister Benny Gantz stated to a graduating class of Israeli air force pilots that Israel is “preparing for the possibility of an attack on Iran” and that attack could happen two to three years from now. Some in the Israeli press have speculated that Netanyahu appointing Yoav Gallant as the new defense minister will be a way to ensure support for a strike on Iran, in contrast to in 2010 when Israel faced a split cabinet on this issue. Newly appointed foreign minister Eli Cohen served as the intelligence minister previously under Netanyahu from May 2020 through June 2021, during which Israel assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, believed to be the head of Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel will likely get measured support from the Biden administration on Iran. Blinken’s statements mention that the US will work with Israel on the threat from Iran, and the Biden administration is working to stop Iran’s drone sales to Russia. However, there is no indication that the US will back out of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Continuing such negotiations, despite the Iranian government’s complete lack of good faith and continued persecution of dissidents, remains the elephant in the room.
The coalition agreement of Israel’s new government promises that it will “advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel,” and expressly includes Judea and Samaria. Specifically, the agreement obligates the prime minister to “formulate and promote policies within whose framework sovereignty will be applied to Judea and Samaria.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich will be a minister within the Defense Department, and will have power over building settlements. Smotrich has also promised to combat Palestinian “de facto annexation” of Area C, which is the part of Judea and Samaria where Israelis live and are entitled to do so under the Oslo Accords. Furthermore, Israel’s new housing minister has also promised to assist Israelis wishing to settle in Judea and Samaria.
However, it remains unclear just how committed Israel’s new government will be to settlement construction and promoting Israel’s sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. The coalition agreement lacks a timeline of implementation and a specific map of priorities within Judea and Samaria. Additionally, in the first cabinet meeting of the new government, Netanyahu laid out his four main priorities of Israel’s new government, and Israel’s sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and/or building settlements there was not one of them. And during Netanyahu’s last tenure as prime minister, he promised multiple times to promote sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, but did not deliver.
The Biden administration will likely clash with Netanyahu’s new government over settlements and any move to establish Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, the latter of which the Biden administration has communicated to Israel as being one of its “red lines.” While not naming settlements specifically, the Biden administration has telegraphed its opposition to both settlement building and sovereignty in press statements and communiques (see here, here and here) opposing policies that “endanger [the] viability” of the two-state solution.
Another point of contention between the administration and Israel’s new government will be the two state solution itself, which the Biden administration remains obsessed with. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently stressed that the US would oppose any attempts of Israel to undermine a two-state solution in a phone call to Israel’s new foreign minister Eli Cohen. This follows virtually identical press statements from the White House and the State Department that argued that the United States will continue to support a two-state solution.
This issue will be considerably problematic considering that the Palestinian government is not a partner in peace. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh stated that Fatah would remain “loyal to the martyrs and prisoners, its founders and our people,” and argued that Palestinians should engage in “popular resistance” against Israel, both of these statements being code-phrases for supporting terrorism. The Deputy Fatah chairman stated that Israel poses a threat to al-Aqsa mosque, a canard used since the 1920s to incite violence against Jews, and also called the new government “fascist.”
Netanyahu’s new government has ambitions plans in opposing a toxic two-state solution, promoting settlement building and annexation of Judea and Samaria, keeping Iran in check, and expanding the Abraham Accords. Hopefully the Biden administration will rise to the occasion and support Israel’s new government, rather than get in the way of durable peace in the region.
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Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar kicked off House Foreign Affairs Committee
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar was voted off the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday. The action was expected, as Republican members of Congress had criticized Omar’s antisemetic and anti-American rhetoric.
After intense debating on the House floor, the resolution passed with a 218-211 vote. Democrats attempted to pull the race card, accusing Republican House members of racism for removing Omar from the committee.
Omar also accused House Republicans of racism, saying, “I am Muslim, I am an immigrant, and interestingly, from Africa…Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy, or that they see me as a powerful voice that needs to be silenced?”
“There is this idea that you are a suspect if you are an immigrant or if you are from certain parts of the world or certain skin tone or a muslim.” Omar said during the heated debate. A fiery Alexandria Ocasia Cortez also chimed in shouting, “This is an attack on women of color!”
Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, from New York, said she had personally witnessed Omar spew anti-American rhetoric. Malliotakis said, “I have been in that committee room where, the representative, equates Israel and the United States to Hamas and the Taliban. Absolutely unacceptable for a member of that committee.”
A four-page resolution was written for the justification of removing Omar from the house Foreign Affairs Committee. The resolution states that in 2019, Omar suggested that Jewish people were buying U.S. political support when she posted on Twitter, “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”
Omar also commented on the September 11th attacks saying, “some people did something.” This type of comment is unacceptable for any representative who is sitting on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lawmakers said.
In the resolution it states that members of this committee should all be held to an “equal standard of conduct due to the international sensitivities and national security concerns under the jurisdiction of this committee.”
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