The appointment of former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer as foreign minister would be a “poke in the eye” to the Biden administration, according to former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer.
Designated prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly considering offering the senior position to Dermer, a long-time confidante, a move that is also angering senior MKS in Netanyahu’s Likud Party, who would prefer the post for themselves.
Dermer served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States starting in 2013 and through the Trump administration, with which he was especially friendly. He also arranged Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress.
That move is just one of many that are worrying US officials, as Israel closes in on forming its most right-wing government, with Itamar Ben-Gvir as Internal Security Minister with expanded authority in the West Bank.
Publicly, US officials remain cautious, saying they want to see what kind of government Netanyahu ultimately forms, reiterating their “ironclad” commitment to Israel while emphasizing American “values” that include freedom and prosperity “in equal measure” for Israelis and Palestinians.
“The administration is right to be concerned ... and to telegraph those concerns,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview. He is one of several Democratic lawmakers who are firm supporters of Israel but have raised alarms over potential members of the new government. These include Sen. Bob Melendez, D-NJ, who chairs the committee, and Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif.
What roles is Netanyahu giving his other partners?
Netanyahu has reportedly offered Smotrich the Finance Ministry instead of Defense, but Smotrich has so far given no indication he will budge from his initial demand.
“We provide nearly $4 billion a year to the Defense Ministry … and do we want to put our money in the hands of these guys?” said l Kurtzer, who now teaches at Princeton University. “I’d say no.”
The issue of whether Israel will change the status quo in the West Bank and head toward annexation will put the inroads made with the Gulf Arab countries through the Abraham Accords into jeopardy, according to Aaron David Miller, a former US envoy for the Middle East now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“If they push too far, it will foreclose any movement forward.”Aaron David Miller
Miller thinks Biden and Netanyahu will attempt to avoid overt conflict to safeguard their own domestic and global positions: “Biden wants to avoid a public wrestling match with Netanyahu,” Miller said, while Netanyahu “craves the international stage and is intending to strut on it.”
Michael Koplow, a senior analyst with the Israel Policy Forum, a US-based pro-Israel organization that advocates the two-state solution, said that the US administration will have to decide what its real red lines are.”
The new Israeli government “will test US boundaries on all fronts.”