With all that the U.S. has done for Israel over the last four years—recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; declaring the legitimacy of settlements; reinstating sanctions on Iran; midwifing the Abraham Accords; releasing the most pro-Israel peace plan in the last 20 years; and more—it is clear that with Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump leading their respective countries, U.S.-Israel relations thrived.
With a new president in the Oval Office, however, relations are not likely to be as smooth. U.S. President Joe Biden has long opposed Jewish settlements in disputed territories, favors a two-state solution and has stated that he would like to negotiate a modified version of the nuclear deal with Iran that Netanyahu consistently and very publicly opposed.
Other Biden administration officials share these views. The senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council was the director of Israeli-Palestinian affairs on the NSC under former U.S. President Barack Obama.
Other officials were involved in negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, including current Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. The Director of National Intelligence signed a letter last year criticizing Trump’s Israel policy and demanding that the Democratic Party platform more affirmatively favor the Palestinians.
It is precisely because of the differences of opinion between Netanyahu and the Biden administration, however, that Netanyahu’s continued leadership is crucial for Israel.
Recall that the Trump administration’s diplomatic “gifts” to Israel were unexpected at the outset. Though Netanyahu’s detractors would never concede it, it was his unique talents, reputation, long-standing personal relationship with Trump, Jared Kushner and others, sustained encouragement of relations between Israel and the Gulf states and position on Iran and other issues that transformed a pro-Israel administration into perhaps the most pro-Israel administration.
If the Biden administration backtracks on the recognitions made by the Trump administration, Netanyahu’s successor may acquiesce in order to curry favor, a tactic of Israeli-Zionist leadership throughout Israel’s history. Netanyahu, however, will fight to preserve his own personal achievements and build upon them.
More than that, no other Israeli politician possesses Netanyahu’s experience, skills, reputation and long-standing relationships, or his understanding of how to leverage Israeli power. None can better ensure the most pro-Israel policy possible from the new administration.
None other than Netanyahu will serve as an effective deterrent against another “daylight” campaign or other efforts to force dangerous concessions. Biden and other officials witnessed first-hand how Netanyahu deflected, contained and reversed the highest-profile and longest-sustained campaign by a U.S. administration to force Israel to make drastic territorial concessions and establish a Palestinian state.
Though the nadir in relations was regrettable, Israeli resistance was necessary to preserve Israel’s interests. To both Netanyahu’s and Obama’s credit, there were still highpoints, including sanctions initially placed on Iran and the diplomatic and clandestine efforts to stall Iran’s nuclear program, Obama’s visit to Israel, funding for Iron Dome and the new memorandum of understanding granting Israel more U.S. military aid than ever before.
If Netanyahu is replaced with a novice who may not even be capable of speaking passable English, the Biden administration will see an opportunity to push for withdrawals and security concessions. Meanwhile, important areas of cooperation and win-win opportunities will be missed.
This is not to say that Biden is an opponent. While he has quipped that he “doesn’t agree with a damn thing [Netanyahu] says,” the two have an almost 40-year relationship and the mutual respect of colleagues who came up through the game at the same time.
“I love you” and “we’re still buddies” are phrases that Biden has used to describe his relationship with Netanyahu. This respect and friendship will serve their working relationship well, even in times of tension, as it did when Biden was vice president.
And such tension is inevitable. Even friendly U.S. administrations try to remind Israel who the superpower is. Israel must and does recognize this and the need for American leadership in the world.
But it is Israel, not the United States, which must take the lead in pursuing Israeli goals, success and power. Netanyahu and predecessors like Menachem Begin have proved that this is how true peace is made, even if it means challenging the leader of the free world—whether at Camp David, in the Oval Office or on Capitol Hill. Israel needs a leader who values that truth over receiving a pat on the back on the White House lawn. In Netanyahu, it has one.
Daniel Tauber is an attorney and a Likud Central Committee member.