The Irish Times view on Israel and the US: Pressing reset

Bennett knows that Biden, a self-proclaimed Zionist, has no appetite for an interventionist approach to the Middle East

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader who took over from Binyamin Netanyahu in March, is less abrasive than his predecessor, whom Biden viewed with deep suspicion, but every bit as right-wing and nationalist. Photograph: Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader who took over from Binyamin Netanyahu in March, is less abrasive than his predecessor, whom Biden viewed with deep suspicion, but every bit as right-wing and nationalist. Photograph: Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

 

Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, hopes for what diplomats are calling a “reset” in the relations between Israel and the US in his first visit to president Joe Biden this week. And whatever emerges from their meeting will certainly be seen in that ambiguous, unambitious light. Both sides have already promised that their post-summit press conference will be low-key and uncontentious.

Bennett, a former settler leader who took over from Binyamin Netanyahu in March, is less abrasive than his predecessor, whom Biden viewed with suspicion, but every bit as right wing and nationalist. He is adamant that whatever the international community may wish there is no prospect of reopening peace talks with the Palestinians and opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.

His agenda will reprise Netanyahu themes, notably the need for the US to continue Trump’s policy of blocking the Iranian nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and defence of Israel’s construction of what the world regards as illegal West Bank settlements as well as the blockade of Gaza. He has promised to expand settlements and insists that the blockade will remain as long as Hamas, which rules the territory, continues to arm itself and fire rockets at Israel.

Bennett knows that Biden, a self-proclaimed Zionist, has no appetite for an interventionist approach to the Middle East, although he has committed to reviving the JCPOA. And that he is likely to applaud Israel’s success in normalising its relations with some of its Arab neighbours.

Biden, obsessed with the strategic threat posed by China, will push Bennett, perhaps even with threats of retaliation, to abandon Israel’s co-operation with China, notably in the hi-tech sphere. The US is alarmed that China’s investment in Israel has exceeded $19 billion in the past 18 years. Bilateral trade reached $17.5 billion last year.

Domestic political constraints and the US’s preoccupation with its humiliating retreat from Afghanistan are more likely, however, to frame this first get-together as an amicable “reset” of relations.

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