Middle East Monitor / July 12, 2023
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is facing a new crisis with US President Joe Biden, amid protests in Israel against a government plan for judicial overhaul, Anadolu Agency reports.
Despite close intelligence and military cooperation between Tel Aviv and Washington, ties between the two leaders remain lukewarm and, at times, tense.
Although the Netanyahu government was formed in December 2022, the Israeli Premier was never invited by Biden to the White House, unusual US behaviour towards Israel.
Biden and Netanyahu are at odds on a host of issues, including relations with the Palestinians, a planned judicial reform in Israel and Iran.
Biden’s views on the Netanyahu government were evident during an interview the American President made with CNN.
The US President said that Netanyahu’s coalition government has some “of the most extreme members” he has seen in Israel.
Biden also considered that “Israeli ministers who want to settle everywhere in the West Bank are part of the problem.”
Biden’s statements drew fire from several Israeli ministers and members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).
“Biden is rude. Even former President Barack Obama did not dare to speak in this way,” an unnamed source close to Netanyahu told Israeli Channel 13.
Far-right National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir also opened fire on the US President.
“President Biden must internalize that Israel is no longer another star in the American flag,” he said on Twitter. “In what way am I an extremist? By handing out weapons to the citizens of Israel so that they can defend themselves? In that, I give full backing to our soldiers and officers?”
“I invite Biden to tour Jerusalem and Hebron to see that our extremism is extreme, immense love for the State of Israel,” he added.
Danny Danon, a Knesset member from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, was also critical.
“I respect the USA, our great friend overseas, but the policy of the State of Israel will be determined only by the government in Jerusalem that was democratically elected by the people of Israel,” he said.
“The American people understand very well that, in a democratic country, policy is determined only by an elected government,” Danon added.
Israeli opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, however, came out to defend the US President.
“President Biden was right when he said that this is the most extremist government in Israel’s history,” Lapid told Channel 13.
“Instead of dealing with security, the economy and foreign relations, they are trying to corrupt the country and dismantle our democracy,” he said.
Sympathy for Israel
Nadav Tamir, CEO of J Street Israel, said Biden’s criticism comes from a “place of sympathy” for Israel’s future.
“President Biden has a record of more than 50 years of support for the State of Israel. When he says that the current government is ‘one of the most extreme he has seen’ we should listen to him, both to his words and to his tone,” he said in a statement.
Biden’s criticism comes from “a place of sympathy and sincere concern for the future of the State of Israel as a democratic state,” Tamir said.
“This is also the message of President [Isaac] Herzog’s invitation to the White House, in contrast to avoiding giving Prime Minister Netanyahu an invitation.
It is “a message whose essence is, we love Israel but disapprove of its anti-democratic government,” he said.
Itamar Eichner, an analyst in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, said Biden’s criticism was a “clear message” to Netanyahu.
“The harsh statements of the American President, who has been a staunch supporter of Israel for many years, are a clear message to Netanyahu against the real owners in his government,” he said, in reference to Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich.
“The problem goes beyond relations between countries. In fact, it touches on the question of whether Israel is still a strategic asset for the United States,” he added.
Eichner said that Biden’s message to Netanyahu was “clear”.
“The US condition for expanding normalization between Israel and Arab countries is that the Palestinians must also enjoy advantages. But in the current security situation, it is difficult to see this happens,” he added.
With US mediation, four Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco – normalized ties with Israel in 2022.
Eichner said Biden’s invitation to the Israeli President to the White House was a sign of his disappointment at Netanyahu.
“It was a message to the Israeli public that Biden is not against the State of Israel, but against the extremist government that controls it,” he added.