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Israel weighs US election outcome

What happened: Most Israeli politicians remain quiet over the outcome of the US election, but media commentators speculate over the implications for Israel and the region.

  • This morning in Yediot Ahronot, Sima Kadmon writes that “a defeat for Trump, if one should take place, is a severe blow for the prime minister, but not necessarily for Israel”. Kadmon says that the results of the US election could have an impact on whether Netanyahu decides to go for early elections in Israel: “Trump’s re-election for a second term is an important factor in this decision. Netanyahu fears that if Biden should be elected, the new administration would manoeuvre him and try to influence Israeli public opinion … people in his own party say that Netanyahu’s motivation for dragging Israel to an election will be greatly diminished now. Unless he decides on a swift election and takes advantage of Trump’s presence in the White House until January 20.”
  • In Maariv, Anna Barksy quotes a senior cabinet official who agrees that a Biden victory will decrease the chances of early elections. “Biden’s potential election would substantially lower the odds of early elections. This time it’ll be like in the Obama years — if the Democrats rise to power in the United States, Netanyahu will need a broad government, a sort of flak jacket, and the Blue and White and Labour Party members of the government constitute a very good flak jacket. It doesn’t make sense to dissolve the unity government now and form a narrow right-wing government. Yamina and Naftali Bennett aren’t exactly the right partner when you have a Democratic president in the White House.”
  • Amos Harel in Haaretz writes that a Biden victory would give the Palestinian leadership hope, but it’s unlikely that a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will be the top priority for a new US administration. The most likely result of a Biden presidency “will be the resumption of coordination with Israel and a readiness to accept the money Israel owes the PA.”
  • Meanwhile, in Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth argues: “Even if Trump is defeated, the legacy he carved out in his four years in office is guaranteed. The Republicans will make sure to preserve his achievements and the United States will make sure to hold on to the assets he procured for it, some of which are very important to Israel, too.”
  • Zohar Palti, director of the Political-Military Bureau in the Defence Ministry, gave an exclusive interview to Yediot Ahronot in which he reassured,”Intimate security relations with the United States will be maintained – no matter who sits in the White House… Israel’s qualitative advantage will be preserved for decades to come.”

Context: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed all the Likud ministers not to speak publicly about the issue until the final results are in. Minister Tzahi Hanegbi was one of the politicians to comment and said in an interview to Kan Radio News that if Democrat Joe Biden were to return to the JCPOA nuclear deal, it could lead to a confrontation between Israel and Iran.

  • In his interview with Yediot Ahronot, Zohar Palti added: “maximizing the pressure on Iran through sanctions has to continue, and I believe that the US will continue the sanctions as part of its commitment to prevent a military nuclear project. This month the sanctions on the sale of conventional weapons to Iran are ending, but the Americans have not said the last word. No matter who the president is, they will apply pressure to any country that wishes to sell arms to Iran. We are in an ongoing dialogue with them on this issue.”
    A new Biden administration would undoubtedly take a different approach to the Middle East than the Trump presidency over the last four years. One major concern for Israel is that Biden will return to the JCPOA nuclear deal as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. He has also committed to pushing back Iran’s malign behaviour in the region, but many Israelis are concerned that his prioritisation of diplomacy will make Iran more aggressive in the region.
  • A Biden victory is likely to change the US’s style, if not substance, from the Trump era in its approach toward Israel. Biden has said he will not undo Trump’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem or its recognition of the Golan Heights, but his administration could include policymakers from the Obama era who still begrudge Netanyahu’s incursions into US domestic politics over Iran.
  • A Biden administration would bring a more balanced approach to US policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its policies “will be grounded in a commitment to a two-state solution, where Israel and the future viable state of Palestine will live together in peace, security, and mutual recognition,” according to the Biden campaign’s manifesto.
  • On the Palestinian side, Biden would restore Washington’s ties with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) by reopening the PLO’s mission to the US and the US Consulate in East Jerusalem. However, Biden has also been critical of Palestinian terrorism and incitement to violence and said he would fully enforce the Taylor Force Act, which holds US aid to the PA based on payments they make to terrorists in Israeli jails.
  • Biden has been supportive of the peace agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, but Israelis are concerned that a change of administration and key officials will dampen the momentum built by the Trump team to bring about more peace agreements with Arab states. A Biden presidency may also use the new peace agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan to push Israelis toward adopting new confidence-measures to help bring Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Looking ahead: The US is expected to finish counting remaining ballots as early as today.

  • Were Biden to win, there is speculation over what an outgoing Trump administration might give to Israel that would be difficult for a Biden administration to renege. They range from consent to the annexation of settlements, new sophisticated weaponry and additional moves against Iran’s nuclear project.

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