Mondoweiss / November 18, 2020
Benjamin Netanyahu will avoid a confrontation with the Biden administration over settlements by going slow on further colonization of the West Bank, at first. But if Biden has any illusion about re-entering the Iran deal, Netanyahu “is going to have to draw a line in the sand,” a leading Israel lobbyist predicted today.
David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, who is close to Netanyahu, said on an AJC webinar that Netanyahu knows “very well” the people being mentioned for Biden foreign policy positions, chiefly Obama re-treads. And while Netanyahu will make a “gesture” toward the Biden team on settlements, he won’t on Iran.
This is just my guess, but Prime Minister Netanyahu knows very well that if he moves early on settlements in the Biden administration, it’s a red flag, and it’s going to set off voices in the White House, particularly among Democrats in Congress, and it’s going to force a confrontation.
So the Prime Minister has to ask himself, Should I do it? Is there a compelling enough reason to do it and incur the price? Or maybe this is something where… I can let this pass for now. It’s not that important in any case, I’m moving ahead with the UAE and Bahrain and Sudan, they too would get upset. So I’m going to hold back. I think that’s very possible.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister will likely say on the issue of Iran, for me it’s non-negotiable. Because for me, it’s an existential question for Israel and the region. ‘I would do my best to work with the Biden administration, I’m going to see how much they have changed in their thinking, having been out of office for the last four years and having witnessed the last five years of the history of the Iran nuclear deal. If I find that they’ve changed and they’re open to new thinking, I’m plunging right in and engaging. If I find that they are back to their original thinking, nothing has changed, no influence of recent events on their thinking about the deal– then I’m going to have to draw a line in the sand.
Harris’s claim about the “history” of the last five years of the deal is merely a fig leaf for Israel’s and the AJC’s devout opposition to the deal, then and now. Netanyahu went so far as to defy the Obama administration by giving a speech against the deal to Congress in early 2015. Netanyahu’s opposition caused Obama to have to pull out all the stops in selling the deal. At one point he said it would be “an abrogation” of his constitutional duty if he stood with Israel and not with Americans’ interest in making the deal.
Harris is also signalling that the conservative Israel lobby groups will oppose Biden’s return to the deal. Some liberal Israel lobby groups support the deal, notably J Street and Americans Peace Now, and they will attempt to give Biden political cover to revive the deal. But we could see a political battle akin to Obama’s of 2015.
So… Netanyahu’s choices are not so interesting as Biden’s. Does he have the gumption?
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006