‘Israel unaware any reevaluation of US-Israel ties’ - senior Israeli official

Israeli officials have said they are unaware of any reevaluation by the US government, following a New York Times column saying that US President Joe Biden is reevaluating the US-Israel relationship.

 US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at his residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)
US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at his residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022

The Biden administration is not considering a reevaluation of US relations with Israel, the White House said on Wednesday, following a New York Times column to that effect.

“There is no talk of some kind of formal reassessment,” the White House stated.

A senior Israeli diplomatic source said: “We do not know of any ‘reevaluation’ by the US government, but in any case, this is not a new phenomenon.

“The Ford administration said it is ‘reevaluating’ the Rabin government, the Reagan administration did so to the Begin government, the Bush Sr. administration did so to the Shamir government, and the Bush Jr. administration did so to the Barak and Sharon governments,” the source said.

The official pointed out that “it is no secret” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Biden disagree about Palestinian statehood, a US return to the Iran nuclear deal, and whether Israel should inform the US in advance about any actions it takes against the Islamic Republic.

 (L-R) US President Joe Biden and Israeli President Issac Herzog meet during the former's visit to Israel  (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
(L-R) US President Joe Biden and Israeli President Issac Herzog meet during the former's visit to Israel (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Biden's view of Netanyahu's Israel 

“Despite these periodical ‘reevaluations’ and disagreements over the years, US-Israel relations grew closer over the decades and reached an all-time high in security cooperation under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership,” the source added. “He plans to make sure this trend continues.”

Thomas Friedman published a column in The New York Times on Tuesday pointing out that the current Israeli government and the Biden administration are not aligned on many issues.

The column comes amid tensions between Jerusalem and Washington.

In an interview with CNN this week, Biden called Netanyahu’s government “one of the most extreme” he had seen in 50 years, in relation to settlements and the Palestinians.

Biden has also publicly said he will not invite Netanyahu to the White House, in the context of criticism of the government’s judicial reform plan.

On Tuesday the White House said: “We urge authorities in Israel to protect & respect the right of peaceful assembly. There is significant debate on the proposed judicial plan. Such debates are a healthy part of a vibrant democracy.”

Friedman lamented that the current government in Jerusalem is not keeping up “the shared fiction” that Jews will only live in Judea and Samaria temporarily. He also argued that the judicial reform plan endangers democracy in Israel to the extent that it may no longer have shared values with the US. A comment by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir that Israel is “no longer another star in the American flag” angered Friedman so much that he wrote half a sentence in all capital letters.

Friedman’s thesis is that all of those factors mean that Biden is surely reassessing the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem, though he said is “not talking about a reassessment of our military and intelligence cooperation with Israel, which remains strong and vital,” rather that there needs to be a new “basic diplomatic approach” based on “tough love for Israel... before it truly goes off the rails.”

He does not explain how the US could continue military and intelligence cooperation with Israel while also siding with those that seek to prosecute it for war crimes, which he encourages in the column.

Friedman’s column was widely reported by the Hebrew-language press, but a source close to Netanyahu called it “a tempest in a teapot” and “an attempt to force a left-wing agenda…while falsely claiming what they care about is the US-Israel relationship.”

“It’s clear that we have disputes, but it is also clear that our alliance with the US is strategic and irreplaceable,” the source said. “[US Ambassador to Israel Tom] Nides himself said the alliance is not one-sided. The US gets a lot from Israel – though we understand the proportions, of course.”

The source close to Netanyahu argued that, while the Biden administration is not happy about judicial reform and is even less happy about this government’s plans to build thousands of new homes in Israeli towns in the West Bank, their main gripe is about Iran and Netanyahu’s refusal to adopt a “no surprises” policy relating to actions against Tehran.

Iran is an “existential issue,” the source said. “The Biden administration is repeating the texts of the Obama era, that we have to be quiet and accept [US policy] in the name of the special relationship. We can’t accept that.”

When it comes to settlements, the government views them as necessary for Israel’s security, the source said.

At the same time, Netanyahu tries to take a balanced approach, the source added: “We don’t build where and when we want, but in a short time this government has still advanced important decisions about Judea and Samaria in a careful, measured way.”

The cabinet voted last month to advance the construction of over 4,500 homes in settlements.