WORLD Steady course seen likely for US-Israel ties


Steady course seen likely for US-Israel ties

China Daily

10:52, June 28, 2021

As Israel transitions to an altered political landscape under a new leader, the country's relationship with its long-term ally the United States has been receiving much attention as observers speculate on the direction it will take.

Newly installed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden, himself less than half a year into his term, have inherited a relationship that could be characterized as one in which neither side can afford to leave the other. But some commentators believe that the strong bonds between the nations might yet undergo some adjustments. These changes, though, will not be drastic, they say.

(Photo: agencies)

The broad framework of cooperation between the countries will not undergo fundamental changes even when there is a change in leaders, said Shu Meng, a researcher at the Middle East Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University.

"Israel will still be a close ally of the US in the Middle East, and the US will remain Israel's security guarantee," she said. "The two nations' policies on many issues will not undergo a fundamental turn."

In a call on Bennett's first day in office, Biden affirmed his "steadfast support for the US-Israel relationship" and "unwavering commitment to Israel's security". He pledged to work together with Israel on all security matters.

On Monday in the White House, Biden is scheduled to host Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose term will end next month.

"President Rivlin's visit will highlight the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel and the deep ties between our governments and our people," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The role of president in Israel is largely ceremonial, but the officeholders are known to promote unity among the country's ethnic and religious groups.

"President Rivlin approaches the end of his term. This visit will honor the dedication he has shown to strengthening the friendship between the two countries over the course of many years," Psaki said.

Bennett's government has said it wants to repair the country's relations with the Democratic Party in the US and restore bipartisan support there for Israel.

However, the coalition that brought Bennett to power is unstable, owing its existence to the member parties' opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu, whose 12-year second stint as prime minister came to an end on June 14, Shu said, adding that such uncertainties may bring some changes to the US-Israeli relationship.

"The interests of many parties within the ruling coalition are inconsistent, and it is difficult for them to reconcile on many aspects," the academic said. "The relationship between Israel and the US under the Biden administration will certainly not be as close as it was in the era of former president Donald Trump."

Significant divergences

There have been some significant divergences between the two sides on the nuclear deal that Iran signed with world powers in 2015, she said.

"The US may put more pressure on Israel to advance the peace talks on the Iranian nuclear issue, something different from what Trump used to do," Shu said.

Biden, a Democrat, has sought to return the US to the Iran nuclear deal, which the Republican Trump pulled the country from in 2018 to gain "cheers from pro-Israel US lawmakers and Israel", said an Associated Press report.

But the new Israeli government remains opposed to Biden's efforts to resurrect the deal, saying it would discuss the issue behind closed doors rather than staging a public confrontation.

In a conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 17, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the two sides agreed on a "no surprises" policy and to keep lines of communication open.

Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli relations at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that the Israeli government, rather than trying to scuttle any agreement with Iran, will press the US administration to keep some sanctions on Iran in place and seek "strategic compensation" for Israel as part of any return to the deal.

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