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Israeli leaders congratulate President-elect Biden

What happened: In a rare synchronised display, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Benny Gantz and President Reuven Rivlin all sent their congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President elect Kamala Harris within minutes of each other on Sunday morning Israel time.

  • Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid beat them to it by tweeting on Saturday: “Congratulations to my friend President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. The relationship between our countries is based on deeply held values and critical shared interests which I know will be at the heart of your administration. I look forward to working with the new administration and members of both parties in Congress to deepen and strengthen the special relationship between Israel and the United States.”
  • At the cabinet meeting yesterday, Netanyahu reiterated, “I would like to start with congratulations for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I have a long and warm personal connection with Joe Biden for nearly 40 years, and I know him as a great friend of the State of Israel. I am certain that we will continue to work with both of them in order to further strengthen the special alliance between Israel and the US.”
  • Netanyahu added, “For myself and for all citizens of the State of Israel, I again thank President Trump for the great friendship he showed the State of Israel and me personally. I congratulate him on recognising Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, for his stand on Iran, for the historic peace accords and for bringing the alliance between Israel and the US to unprecedented heights. Thank you, President Trump.”
  • Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas also sent congratulations, adding, “I look forward to working with the President-elect and his administration to strengthen the Palestinian-American relations and to achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for our people, as well as to work for peace, stability and security for all in our region and the world.”
  • Yesterday, US envoy for Iran Elliott Abrams arrived in Israel and met senior officials to discuss imposing additional sanctions on Iran.

Context: President-elect Biden is considered a loyal friend of Israel having described himself a Zionist in the past.

  • Israel Hayom quotes a senior cabinet minister saying, “Biden sees himself as being committed to Israel’s security and that is indeed how he acted when he served as the chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. He cares about Israel and not only in terms of American interests.”
  • The most pressing issue on Israel’s agenda with Biden will be Iran, with the incoming administration already formulating a plan to renew negotiations with Iran. However, the US assessment is that it will be impossible to reach a meaningful deal before the Iranian presidential election in June. Therefore, they may look to first freeze Iran’s nuclear programme and their proliferation of ballistic weapons. In exchange, the US could drop some or all sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
  • According to Israeli media, the current US administration is preparing a range of new sanctions on Iran, which will target its missile programme, its support for terrorist groups, and its human rights violations.
  • On the Palestinian front, Biden unlikely to prioritise efforts to resume negotiations, but will place the two-state solution back on the agenda.
  • Three years ago, Abbas cut off contact with President Trump after he recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there. The Palestinians will now hope to reset relations.

Looking forward:  One of the key early indicators of US policy in the region will be the foreign policy team that Biden appoints. Several of his close foreign policy advisers are considered supporters of Israel but critical of the Israeli approach to the Palestinian issue and the JCPOA.

  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to arrive in Israel next week to discuss a range of new sanctions on Iran to complicate the Biden administration’s re-entry to the JCPOA nuclear deal.
  • According to Yaakov Katz, the editor of the Jerusalem Post, Israel plans to reach out to the new administration in the upcoming months to begin discussing the formulation of a new long-term multibillion dollar military aid plan for the IDF.

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