Bennett Is Going to Washington. But Who Will He Represent There?

Israel Harel
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, this month.
Israel Harel

The ultimate question: What policy will Naftali Bennett present in Washington? Someone close to him told me that the only leeway in authority his partners grant him, and even that (sometimes) less out of love for him than hatred for his rivals, focus on a single area: fighting the coronavirus pandemic. When it comes to foreign policy, the real decision-makers are Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. To their left are the heads of the Labor Party, Meretz and the United Arab List. The leaders of Yesh Atid and Kahol Lavan have a great deal of influence. Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope barely says anything.

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During his meeting with the U.S. president, the prime minister will be asked about Israel’s position on foreign policy issues, such as ways to handle Iran’s nuclear program and the American vision vis-à-vis the two-state idea (which is shared by certain members of Israel’s government). On these critical topics, Bennett, according to the worldview he has put forward innumerable times, is light years from Joe Biden and even further from the administration’s foreign policy team, including two crucial figures: the secretary of state and the national security adviser. Another acute issue over which Bennett and the Biden administration part ways is the latter’s plan to reopen, in the heart of Israel’s capital, the U.S. embassy in Palestine (which operated for years under the cover name of the “American Consulate”). This mission closed after Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Biden’s ability to force concessions on Israel, particularly in regard to Iran, has diminished. The administration of Barack Obama promised to stand by Israel in the event Tehran violated the nuclear agreement and posed a danger to Jerusalem. It can be assumed that after the Afghanistan fiasco, Biden will not repeat this promise nor pressure Israel to end its active opposition to the renewal of the nuclear deal. Seeing as the United States is abandoning its Pax Americana doctrine in the Muslim world (under his directive, even after the lessons of Kabul), Biden is also likely to respond positively to Bennett’s declaration that in areas concerning the very existence of the Jewish state and the Jewish people, Israel will rely solely on itself.

And if Bennett can muster a little courage and inspiration, he might even cite the ancient war doctrine of the people of Israel, whose validity is proved generation after generation: “And I looked, and there was none to help, and I beheld in astonishment, and there was none to uphold; therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me, and my fury, it upheld me.”

With regard to other matters of principle, such as the U.S. Embassy to Palestine in Jerusalem, the continued building in communities in Judea and Samaria and the imposition of Israeli law and sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, Bennett is liable to find himself in an awkward situation in the White House. Not only does the U.S. administration disagree with him on these issues; he is a minority in the government of which he is thhe itions, assuming he has adhered to them, or those held by a majority in his cabinet?

A few indications may make it clear where he is headed. In addition to suspending construction in Judea and Samaria, this week he returned, after rockets were fired at Ashkelon from the Gaza Strip, to Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of containment. (“We will act at a time, place and under the conditions that suit us.”) The appointment of Michael Herzog as Israel’s ambassador to the United States also heralds containment – containment of American policy. Herzog, who spent several years in the United States and is close to a number of important figures in the Biden administration, is a signatory of a petition calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

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