Let’s set aside speculation as to why President Joe Biden has yet to congratulate Israel’s former and soon-to-be prime minister, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, on his victory in the Nov. 1 Knesset elections. One could argue that U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides’s call on Thursday—to wish Netanyahu well and say that he’s “looking forward to working together to maintain the unbreakable bond”—was a sufficient temporary stand-in for the real thing.
It’s worth remembering that Biden’s got his own political hurdles to cross at the moment. Polls ahead of the upcoming midterms are boding ill for his party, to put it mildly.
Still, given the widely cited gossip-disguised-as-news by Israeli commentator and Axios columnist Barak Ravid, it’s hard to ascertain the significance of Biden’s silence. Ravid reported on Wednesday that “two U.S. officials” said Washington “is unlikely to engage with Jewish supremacist politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is expected to be a senior minister in [Netanyahu’s new government].”
Ravid added that “if the Biden administration does boycott Ben-Gvir [No. 2 on the Religious Zionist Party list], it will mark an unprecedented development that would likely have negative consequences for the U.S.-Israeli relationship.”
Even though the above claim is more of an “anyone but Bibi” assessment than an accurate representation of the facts, one thing is clear: The Democrats occupying Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill are not fond of the prospect of another Netanyahu-led government in Jerusalem.
This works both ways. The Israeli public that just chose to replace its ruling caretaker coalition with a right-wing one is hoping for a “red wave” in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. In such an event, Biden’s belated felicitations to Bibi will contain a subtext that makes the White House wince.
Interestingly, none of this kept the powers-that-be at Foggy Bottom from promptly picking up the phone. Yet it wasn’t Netanyahu whom Secretary of State Antony Blinken called when most of the ballots were counted.
No, he preferred to chat with the loser, outgoing interim premier Yair Lapid, “to commend Israel for its free and fair elections, and to thank the prime minister for his partnership.”
According to State Department spokesman Ned Price, Blinken also “reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship … emphasized his deep concern over the situation in the West Bank—including heightened tensions, violence and loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives—and underscored the need for all parties to urgently de-escalate the situation.”
This conversation, in which Blinken typically equated victim and perpetrator, took place on Thursday. On Friday, he talked to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas about “joint efforts to improve the quality of life for the Palestinian people and enhance their security and freedom, [while] reaffirm[ing] our commitment to a two-state solution.”
As he had done with Lapid, the secretary of state then “underscored” for Abbas the usual bit about “both sides” needing to de-escalate the violence. That’s not how the terrorist-in-a-tie heard it, however.
His tightly controlled news agency, WAFA, described the exchange as one in which Abbas “briefed the U.S. secretary of state on the Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people in cities, villages and refugee camps, including the blockades, extrajudicial killings, home demolitions and settlement construction, in addition to settlers’ violence and violations carried out against the occupied city of Jerusalem and its Muslim and Christian holy sites.”
The ability of the geriatric ruler in Ramallah to spew so many lies without taking a breath is a function of his knowing the script by heart and repeating it in every forum. But what’s Blinken’s excuse for listening?
It’s bad enough that Team Biden pushes policies that exacerbate the problems it supposedly strives to solve; the false “two-state” paradigm is a prime example.
It’s worse when the world’s top diplomat bolsters and becomes a laughing stock among self-aggrandized despots like Abbas, who is reviled by his own people for a host of reasons, among them the quelling of any opposition. The day after his phone call with Blinken, for instance—as Khaled Abu Toameh reported—he banned Palestinian activists from participating in a video conference in Ramallah to demand reforms, and detained journalists who came to cover the event.
With whom, then, does Blinken imagine he’s engaged in “joint efforts to improve the Palestinians’ quality of life and enhance their security and freedom”? In the absence of an answer, the go-to culprit, as always, is Israel.
The certainty of the chattering classes that this attitude would change without Netanyahu at the helm was exposed as the idiocy it was. Imagine their delight at the emergence of a new bogeyman—Ben-Gvir—on whom they can pin Palestinian intransigence and left-wing accusations of Israeli wrongdoing.
The good news, especially if the Republicans take back the House of Representatives and the Senate, is that the ploy won’t work. Nor will the question of when Biden deigns to welcome Bibi back be of relevance.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”