How Erdan could open a new chapter in US-Israel relations - analysis

A return to the tension of the Obama years is not to anyone's advantage.

Gilad Erdan arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2019. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Gilad Erdan arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2019.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
On November 17, 2016, a week after Donald Trump’s surprise presidential election victory, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, emerged from a gold elevator in Trump Tower in New York alongside Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.
That moment came after Dermer had been ambassador for over three tumultuous years, in which the Obama administration negotiated the Iran deal that Israel saw as giving the Islamic Republic a path to a nuclear weapon, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out against it before both houses of Congress.
The Obama administration, as a whole, was no fan of Netanyahu and, by extension, Dermer, the man so close to Netanyahu he was known as “Bibi’s brain.”
Dermer, who was briefly a Republican political operative before his long political and diplomatic career in Israel, was seen in the White House as working with the GOP against them.
Dermer walked out of the gilded elevator in Trump Tower with the swagger of someone who knew things were about to go his way.
“I just wanted to say,” Dermer began, smiling as he addressed the gaggle of reporters gathered in the tower’s marble lobby, “Israel has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a friend of Israel. We have no doubt that Vice President-elect Mike Pence is a friend of Israel. He was one of Israel’s greatest friends in Congress and one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country. I look forward to working with all the members of the Trump administration, including [campaign executive] Steve Bannon, on working to make the US-Israel relationship stronger.”
It seems that optimism was warranted, considering that Trump recognized Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, facilitated the normalization between Israel and three Arab countries, declared settlements to not necessarily be illegal and presented a peace plan that Dermer heavily influenced, which would have allowed Israel to retain all settlements in Judea and Samaria.
And Dermer was a key player all along in the super-close relationship between Trump and Netanyahu that benefited the US-Israel relationship for the past four years.
After seven and a half intense years in Washington, Dermer is set to return to Israel in January and be replaced by Gilad Erdan, who will be ambassador to the UN and to the US concurrently.
Now that Biden has apparently won the presidential election, the reshuffle could not be coming at a better time.
Biden has made sure to present himself as a unifier, and his surrogates and advisers on foreign policy have all said the former vice president will not carry the baggage of the Obama administration’s friction with Israel when he is in the Oval Office.
But it would still probably be less than helpful for someone with such bad blood with the Obama administration and many of its alumni – such as Susan Rice, Michèle Flournoy and others, who are contenders for senior posts in Biden’s cabinet – and who is identified as being so aligned with the Trump administration, to represent Israel in Washington.
That’s where Erdan and Israel now have an opportunity moving forward. Erdan has a chance to open a new chapter in the US-Israel relationship.
Erdan has some experience dealing with that special alliance from his time as strategic affairs minister and as public security minister. Being that he is a relatively unknown quantity in Washington can only help him with the incoming Democratic administration.
He is a former Likud lawmaker and minister but was someone who stood up to Netanyahu when they disagreed, as opposed to someone viewed as an extension of the prime minister’s brain. As ambassador, Erdan won’t be able to challenge Netanyahu and will still represent his positions, but someone holding a grudge from the Obama days may be more amenable to working with Erdan.
After four years of close ties between Dermer and the Trump administration, Erdan now has a chance to forge ties of his own with Biden and those around him for the benefit of Israel and the US.
On Sunday night, Erdan tweeted his congratulations to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
“As Israel’s incoming ambassador to the United States, I look forward to working closely to deepen even further the strong, strategic alliance between our countries,” he wrote.