Netanyahu should have met with Joe Biden during US visit

Israel has thrived because it has enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States for the vast majority of the past 72 years.

Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., July 14, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., July 14, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Washington in the wake of the momentous peace agreements with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates without reaching out to US Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, according to a report by The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov.
This was an unfortunate move by Netanyahu, who has become a polarizing figure in US domestic politics. The perception that Israel is now a partisan issue is damaging. While the peace agreements are a historic milestone, Israel wants all Americans to feel like stakeholders in helping it succeed.
Israel has thrived because it has enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States for the vast majority of the past 72 years. Although that has meant navigating various challenges while accepting criticism from both sides, it has been part of the unique Israel-US alliance.
Our special relationship with the US is predicated on matters such as maintaining our qualitative military edge, the sharing of intelligence, and support for defense programs, matters that benefit both countries.
It would be unhelpful if a Democratic administration were to come into office thinking that Israel’s alliance with the US was becoming more an alliance of political parties or a Right-versus-Left issue. For instance, Netanyahu has long been critiqued for being too close to Republican candidates in the US, an issue that fueled the Obama administration’s anger after the Mitt Romney election campaign in 2012.
There is nothing wrong with political parties sharing values with similar parties abroad. Socialist parties have common values just as religious-right parties do. That means, for example, that there is nothing wrong with US Democrats feeling they have more in common with members of Israel’s Center-Left, and vice versa.
But what is essential is that when it comes to government-to-government relations, issues such as the recent peace deal and the embassy move not be seen as partisan or strictly connected to Netanyahu or US President Donald Trump, but as connected to all of Israel and all of America. A short phone call with Biden would have been helpful for Israel’s bipartisan image.
Until now, Netanyahu has sought to use the peace agreement with the Gulf states as a way to sideline his coalition partners from the Blue and White Party as part of the usual political bickering.
Past Israeli leaders, such as Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, knew how to share the stage – not always easily – with others, such as Shimon Peres or Moshe Dayan. But Netanyahu has refused to empower a Peres or a Dayan, because he seems to feel the need to keep the story about himself. Israeli ambassadors, Foreign Ministry personnel and basically everyone else in the government are sidelined so that Netanyahu can take credit for everything.
And yet, as the “state,” he doesn’t consider it worth his time to craft bipartisan support for Israel, preferring to cast it aside, as though signing agreements with other countries were a personal and not national agenda.
History tells us that those leaders Netanyahu admires, such as Winston Churchill, come and go. What lasts is not their names but what they did for the country.
Israel’s strength lies in its bipartisan support. We want more peace deals and more work on showing the countries in the Middle East that peace will pay off for them. If they think that a new administration will not be as close to Israel, that will create leverage for them.
“This was a bad move by the prime minister and does further damage to the tradition of bipartisanship in the US-Israel relationship,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said.
A spokesman for Netanyahu defended the prime minister by noting that the visit was focused on the peace deal.
Biden is a friend of Israel, and so is his running mate, Kamala Harris. It behooved Netanyahu to reach out by telephone to make sure that everyone felt a sense of pride in these momentous peace agreements.