The United States said it plans to hold Netanyahu accountable for the actions of far-right ministers.
US President Joe Biden’s administration is reportedly planning to hold incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally accountable for the actions of far-right lawmakers he is expected to name soon as chief ministers in his next government.
The position, revealed on a Tuesday report by the Politico website, is a central part of the policy the White House has been crafting as it prepares to once again work with a Netanyahu government in Jerusalem after a year in which ties deepened, thanks to a more moderate coalition headed by former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu had an icy relationship with the previous Democratic administration, when Biden was vice president under Barack Obama, due to major policy differences over Iran and the Palestinians.
Those differences persisted when Biden returned as president and overlapped with Netanyahu as prime minister for nearly six months in 2021, though they weren’t prominent to the same extent. The two leaders often boast of their close friendship built over the 40 years they’ve known each other.
Accordingly, the two anonymous officials quoted in the Politico report said the Biden administration will publicly turn to Netanyahu on any serious issues related to Palestinian or Israeli ties to Arab states.
The policy allows the Biden administration to avoid dealing as much with the hardline elements of the next government, as the expected incoming finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, the expected incoming national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Avi Maoz, the anti-incoming lawmaker. LGBT elected as deputy. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Biden administration officials have dodged repeated questions about whether they will engage with some of these lawmakers, and the White House held a meeting on the matter earlier this month.
No decision was made, however, leading to a line being drawn in US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s speech days later at the J Street conference, where he said: “We will assess the government by policies and procedures, rather than individual personalities. an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.
“Bibi says she can control her government, so let’s see how she does it,” one of the unnamed US officials was quoted as saying by Politico, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
The officials explained that by focusing on Netanyahu, they hope to limit the influence of the more far-right figures in the next government.
“What is relevant is Netanyahu. He is the prime minister,” the second US official said, lamenting the attention paid to far-right lawmakers. “People are making a strategic mistake building these guys.”
Still, the first official acknowledged that some of the incoming ministers pose a more significant challenge to the Biden administration. “Everyone, without exception, understood that these guys are fundamentally different” from previous Israeli governments, the official said, referring to the position of those at the White House meeting earlier this month where the matter was discussed.
The two US officials avoided saying they would use US military assistance to Israel to put pressure on Netanyahu, something Biden has repeatedly spoken out against.
They said there are options beyond rhetorical rebuke, noting Netanyahu’s desire for a tougher US policy toward Iran and Washington brokering a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“Netanyahu wants a lot of things from us,” one of the US officials told Politico. “It’s a two-way street… We’ll work with him on the things that matter to him and he’ll work on the things that matter to us.”
On the other hand, the official refused to downplay the importance of the public rebukes, arguing that Israel takes them seriously as Jerusalem has long tried to maintain the perception that it has a close relationship with Washington.
“Right now, we have been very measured,” the US official said. “We could turn the reviews up very quickly.”
The two anonymous US officials quoted in the report echoed the sentiment expressed by US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, who said earlier this month: “I will work with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Like he says, he’s got his hands on the wheel… I’m going to make sure those hands are really tight on that wheel, and I’m going to encourage him to do the things that he said he wants to do.”
“He said he wants to be prime minister of all of Israel. I take you at your word. And obviously, the United States will work with him to make sure that happens,” Nides added, further indicating that Washington sees Netanyahu as the most moderate member of the next Israeli government, which has been characterized as the most right-wing in the country. history.
He added that he would not tell Israel what to do, since it is a democracy. “We will talk and talk when we think our shared values are getting confused, and that’s what friends do,” Nides said.