Tel-Aviv: As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a re-election campaign next week, he is missing an ally he has been able to rely on for the past two years over three previous votes: Donald Trump.
The US former president’s conservative base was zealously pro-Israel and Trump fulfilled a wish list for the hawkish Netanyahu.
Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, carried out blessed settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and American incentives for Arab nations to normalize ties with the Jewish state.
Netanyahu mentioned his closeness to Trump to bolster his candidacy and print the former president’s face on his posters during previous campaigns.
The prime minister “actually told his followers: ‘Look, whenever I want, I knock on the White House door and the White House opens the door,’ Tamar Hermann, a political scientist at the Open University of Israel, told AFP.
President Joe Biden represents a dramatically different political reality for Netanyahu, who wants to extend his record of 12 consecutive years in power on March 23.
In this vote, “the presence of the US government is minimal,” Hermann said.
Netanyahu and Biden have both confirmed a decades-long friendship, but they have sharp policy differences, especially regarding Iran.
Biden tried to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu hated that Trump scrapped.
The Democratic president is also expected to renew US criticism of expanding the Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
“There is no love for Netanyahu in this government and among Democratic elites,” said Shibley Telhami, an expert on US policy in the Middle East at the University of Maryland.
“The problem for them right now is that the practical alternatives are almost as bad for him.”
Several of Netanyahu’s former allies have joined rival right-wing parties.
Polls show that none of the new factions are likely to beat Netanyahu’s Likud, but they have shifted Israeli politics further to the right.
Biden’s ideology can best align with the Israeli center Yesh Atid party led by Yair Lapid, who is predicted to finish second behind Likud.
US Democratic political adviser Mark Mellman, who advises the challenger, said Lapid shares Biden’s values and considers the president a friend.
“Biden is for a two-state solution. Parties are acting in Israel that are opposed to a two-state solution,” Mellman said.
Yet there is ‘nothing [Biden] has done that indicates he wants to play a favorite here at all.’
David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Pro-Israel Institute for Middle East Policy, said even if Biden were to support a Netanyahu rival, any alternative coalition could collapse under ideological divisions.
“They agree that they want to get rid of Netanyahu. It gets them through the first month, but what do they agree on after that?” says Makovsky.
Besides, he told AFP, the Biden administration’s attention is elsewhere.
“The government has a lot on its plate with Covid, Covid, Covid, 500,000 Americans killed, all the economic implications of Covid, and that just displaces a lot of issues,” he said.
‘Not Mideast Focused’
Biden has indicated that he will not reverse some of Trump’s movements that were popular in Israel.
He does not intend to return the US embassy to Tel Aviv, and his government supports the Trump mediation agreements that normalize Israel’s ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan.
Washington’s criticism of the International Criminal Court’s investigation into possible Israeli war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza was also welcomed across Israel’s political spectrum.
“The US is going to work with whoever comes forward,” Dan Shapiro, who served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, told AFP.
“But the broader picture is that President Biden’s overarching priorities are not currently focused on the Middle East.”
Instead of striving for a comprehensive peace agreement, Biden will focus on improving daily life for Palestinians by restoring aid and renewing diplomatic missions, which Trump has cut off, Shapiro predicted.
Biden has only a limited call from progressive people to plead harder for the Palestinian cause.
Last week, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders asked an independent and four Democratic senators, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, to pressure Israel to do more to help Palestinians get coronavirus vaccines.
Israel is the world leader in Covid vaccinations per capita, but has offered only a limited amount of doses a