Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett travels to Washington on Tuesday for talks with US President Joe Biden, seeking to ‘reset’ relations with Israel’s closest ally and find common ground on Iran , sworn enemy.
On his first state visit since taking office in June, Bennett will meet with Biden on Thursday and attempt to reestablish ties with America’s top Democrat, which were strained under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accused of openly favoring the Republican Party.
“Currently, the biggest transaction between the two countries is a refresh and a reset of bilateral relations,” Scott Lasensky, senior political adviser to former President Barack Obama on Israel, told AFP.
Netanyahu alienated Democratic leaders by his relentless public criticism of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers brokered by the Obama administration, in which Biden was vice president.
Netanyahu’s close embrace of Obama’s successor – President Donald Trump, whom he has repeatedly called “the best friend” Israel has ever had in the White House – angered Biden’s party even more .
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hinted at a new approach when he met his US counterpart Antony Blinken in June.
“Over the past few years, mistakes have been made. Israel’s bipartisan position has been hurt. We will correct these mistakes together, ”said Lapid.
– No Iranian “lifeline” –
While Bennett may aim to warm diplomatic waters, he remains a foreign policy hawk fiercely opposed to the Iran deal, which has lifted sanctions on Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, but has gradually withdrawn from key commitments, including on uranium enrichment, in response to sanctions imposed by Trump after unilaterally withdrawing the United States of the agreement in 2018.
“I will tell President Biden that it is time to stop the Iranians (…) from not giving them a lifeline in the form of reinstating an expired nuclear deal,” the 49-year-old Israeli prime minister said on Sunday.
Bennett’s meeting with Biden, 78, comes two months after talks in Vienna broke off on resuming the deal with no noticeable progress.
Ou Rabinowitz, a specialist in nuclear proliferation and US-Israel relations at Hebrew University, told AFP she believed “the Iranian issue would be high on the meeting’s agenda.”
“Israel wants to establish new jargon,” or an understanding, with the United States on what would constitute Iran crossing a threshold towards building a nuclear weapon, she said.
Bennett suggested this approach on Sunday, saying: “We will present an orderly plan that we have formulated over the past two months to curb the Iranians.” He offered no details.
The Israeli leader will land in Washington amid growing concerns about the prospects of reviving the deal with Iran.
Ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi was sworn in in Iran earlier this month, after winning a presidential election in June.
– “Nothing” for the Palestinians –
Bennett leads a coalition of eight ideologically disparate parties that range from conciliatory parties to hard-line supporters like himself, and he has avoided the Palestinian issue in favor of consensus issues like health and the economy.
Shira Efron, a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said the Biden administration had modest ambitions, mostly focused on rescinding some of Trump’s proactive measures. ‘Israel.
“The Biden administration understands that this is a fragile coalition,” she said.
“I don’t think Biden is going to push Naftali Bennett to try to restart the peace negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Political scientist Ali Jarbawi of Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank expected the talks between Bennett and Biden to mean “nothing” to the Palestinians suffering under Israeli “apartheid”.
Israel strongly rejects accusations that its treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid.
“Biden will not resolve the conflict,” Jarbawi said.
“If they talk about the Palestinians, they will talk about improving the lives of Palestinians under occupation, so it’s like before. “
The Biden administration returned millions of dollars in funding to the Palestinians after Trump cut off aid, including to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
An expected sticking point during the talks will be the Biden administration’s pledge to reopen a consulate general in Jerusalem responsible for US-Palestinian affairs.
Trump closed that mission in 2019 after moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, bolstering Israel’s contested claim of sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.
Eugene Kontorovich, who has advised the Trump administration on Israel, said reinstating the consulate would “almost certainly” feature in the talks and would likely meet opposition from Bennett, who “is ideologically and fundamentally committed to the integrity of Jerusalem. “.
© 2021 AFP