WASHINGTON – Israel should not expect the Biden administration to delay resumption of US talks with Iran until Israel has a new government in place, despite its fourth deadlocked election, according to Dan Arbell, a scholar-in-residence at the Center for Israeli Studies at American University.
“I believe that the Biden administration would be careful not to look as if it interferes with Israel’s elections,” Arbell, a 25-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service, told The Jerusalem Post. “And while the Middle East is not a priority for Biden, he won’t wait with time-sensitive matters such as Iran, even if that means to move forward with the diplomatic negotiations while in Israel there’s an interim government and election campaign.”
If the current election returns hold up, with no side holding a clear 61-seat majority, the country could be headed for the fifth round of elections since 2019. If so, the State Department is “prepared to engage in discussions with Iran,” as Secretary Antony Blinken said several times, as the US and the E3 countries discuss how to return to the JCPOA.
Blinken promised several times to consult with the allies in the region, including Israel, “at the takeoff, not at the landing.” And while both countries are having an open channel of discussion through the National Security Council, the administration’s desire that both Iran and the US return to compliance with the agreement as soon as possible could coincide with a fifth election.
Another area of mutual interest for both countries is the ICC probe. Last week, Israel received a letter from International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda formally notifying the country of the opening of a full war crimes probe and giving it 30 days to respond.
Blinken said earlier this month that the US “firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed by this decision.
“The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter,” Blinken said. “We have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel,” he added.
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at FDD (Foundation for Defense of Democracies), told the Post that should Israel head into yet another round of elections, coordination with the United States on international issues like the ICC is likely to remain strong, as both sides have attested.
“The current dynamic is likely to hold,” he continued. “Netanyahu will be the leader of Israel, even if his mandate is less than ideal for him. In that capacity, we are likely to see him outspoken on issues related to Iran nuclear diplomacy and sanctions relief.”
He went on to say that the Palestinians are likely to be a portfolio with peripheral attention.
“But with that said, Palestinian elections are slated for May. Neither Washington nor Jerusalem have taken steps to mitigate a possible victory for Hamas or other terrorists that plan to run,” Schanzer noted. “They will need to do so soon, as the painful lessons of the 2006 Hamas electoral victory could repeat.”
Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, told the Post that “with Palestinian elections looming as well, and also Iranian elections, the dilemma for the Biden administration is this: Push now on policy issues the administration cares about and risk bumping up against electoral constraints in other countries, or plow ahead regardless.”
“At some point, the US must act on its own agenda, regardless of the internal dynamics of others,” he added.
“We should not overstate the effect on foreign policy,” Sachs continued. “The real danger is the continued domestic damage, which is considerable – but Israel’s foreign policy is not immune from the farce of its domestic politics.”•