With President Biden due to make his first presidential visit to Israel next month, it is worth reflecting on the dramatic changes Biden and Prime Minister Bennett have made to US-Israel relations over the past year and what that means. portends for Biden’s next visit. visit. The two leaders began to give back to the relationship what had been missing for many years: true bipartisanship. Missteps by Obama and Netanyahu, particularly but not solely on the Iran deal, have made it increasingly difficult to gain broad bipartisan support for Israel-related issues in Congress. These sentiments have trickled down to the Trump administration, which, like Netanyahu, had little interest in easing tensions.
Under President Biden, although there has been no shortage of very difficult issues and disagreements between the United States and Israel, including the American desire to renege on the Iran deal and improve relations with the Palestinians, they have been largely kept out of the public eye. Instead, there have been an unprecedented number of visits and meetings between US and Israeli officials at all levels where these issues have been successfully resolved in private.
Much has been written about the decades of foreign policy experience and expertise that Biden brought with him to the presidency. Nowhere is this more evident than in his view of Israel and the Middle East. He knows Israel well and above all understands, in his kishkes, which the president he previously worked under never did – that Israel is a close ally of the United States and that disagreements, however difficult, are better and more effectively handled in private. It’s a critical model for the conduct of those relationships, especially for a Democratic president, given the political pressures coming from the left. That won’t stop the handful of critics from both left and right, but it will go a long way to marginalizing them further.
Likewise, Prime Minister Bennett, while lacking the depth of that experience, also understands the need to work quietly and effectively with Israel’s most important partner, the United States, and has done throughout his one-year tenure as Prime Minister. It was unfortunately not the view of his predecessor who did immeasurable harm to the bipartisan US-Israeli relationship by publicly confronting President Obama as he did over the Iran deal. As someone who worked in the trenches with Congress throughout this period, I witnessed the detrimental impact that Netanyahu’s speech to Congress had – and continues to have – long after was spoken by some of Israel’s closest friends in Congress.
Given where Biden and Bennett are from, there is an opportunity to make real progress on bilateral, multilateral and regional issues between the two countries at a very key time for Israel. These would include: developing coordinated strategies on how to stop Iran’s nuclear program given the likelihood of reaching an agreement; advancing the Abraham Accords and creating a regional security structure to confront Iran; halt Iranian advances in the region; bring about substantial improvements on the ground in the lives of Palestinians, while finding ways to combat growing Palestinian terrorism; and advancing important bilateral initiatives like the visa waiver program.
Nevertheless, despite the two leaders’ desire to make this visit a success, the unfortunate history of presidential visits to Israel is that those with a different agenda will do what they can to scuttle it. An announcement by a bureaucrat or a planning committee about a settlement project that was approved months earlier — as was done during Vice President Biden’s visit in 2010 — could well undo any good that might come. of the visit. It is incumbent on the Bennett administration to ensure that this does not happen again. And, of course, there’s the question of who will actually be Israel’s prime minister when Biden arrives in July? Given the critical importance of Israel’s relationship with the United States and the centrality of bipartisanship to maintaining that relationship, whoever prime minister is, it would be wise to continue and build on the successful model that Biden and Bennett have created.
Ester Kurz is the former director of legislative strategy and policy for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.