Repairing Israel-U.S. alliance helps Israel and Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit with U.S. President Donald Trump has bolstered Israel’s security and global standing. It also shored up Netanyahu’s political leverage.
After Bibi’s contentious relationships with Obama and Clinton, he needed results from this trip that would boost his influence at home—and the restoration of a strong Israel-U.S. alliance fits the bill. Though he didn’t get reassurances from Trump on every point he wanted, the visit was a success. For the first time in 11 years, a Republican president and friendlier, GOP-majority Congress welcomed the prime minister of Israel.
Yet the trip took place under the long shadow of the gravest political threat Netanyahu has ever faced—police investigations into alleged corruption and accepting illegal gifts—details of which are leaked daily by anonymous sources. The fact that the sources are veiled makes it harder for his coalition to stand with him against the pressure to resign—for fear of political backlash against them from unidentified but potentially powerful actors. This political scheme is being conducted in the dark, stealthily. Even if Bibi doesn’t resign, the smear campaign has been eroding his support.
Netanyahu is also down in the polls to charismatic, center-left leader Yair Lapid, and he faces battering in his coalition from Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party and Likud activists to aggressively build new settlements, annex areas of the West Bank, and reject the two-state solution. Another thorn in his side is the recent state comptroller’s report on Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, which blames his administration for failing to adequately brief his security cabinet on Hamas terror tunnels. With controversy swirling about him, rightwing politicians are lining up in the wings with an eye on taking the helm.
In light of the domestic turmoil, “Netanyahu does not need a green light to build in the West Bank, a commitment to move the embassy, or a vow to tear up the Iran deal. What he needs is no hint, no sign, and no leak of the slightest public or private disagreement with Trump,” said Michael Koplow, Israel Policy Forum director.His success in reaffirming the U.S.-Israel relationship “should demonstrate his capacity to keep that relationship unbreakable.” And that ace in the hole strengthens Israel, and helps neutralize Bibi’s political opponents.
Pressures from the Right
Several White House statements such as building new settlements or expanding existing ones "may not be helpful in achieving [peace]" will help Netanyahu resist pressure from Bennett and right-wing Likud ministers on settlement policy, said former U.S. mediator Dennis Ross. A compromise with the United States that permits building only in large West Bank settlement blocs likely to remain part of Israel in a future deal would also help him withstand pressure from the Right.
Nevertheless, his hard-right coalition members were jubilant when neither leader endorsed the two-state model as the sole solution for peace with the Palestinians. This stance instantly won Netanyahu support and credibility from his political base. The dramatic break with what has been the bedrock of U.S. Middle East policy since the Clinton administration, and is widely viewed as the formula for peace, has also been the mantra of the Israeli Left–“led by military and legal fraternities and the media—enemies of Netanyahu from the beginning,” said journalist Caroline Glick.
Pressures from the Left
After Netanyahu’s strained encounters with Obama, political rival Lapid accused him of damaging Israel’s alliance with the United States with a “condescending and disparaging attitude toward Israel's closest friend in the world, a country whose relationship with us is our greatest security asset.” Then along came Trump, warmly welcoming the Prime Minister of Israel to the White House. In a sign of the center-left’s disarray, they issued no statement in response to the Trump-Netanyahu visit.
The two leaders have found common ground—not only in center-right ideology and leftist “shadow” agendas working to undermine them—but also in strategies for fighting their nations’ common enemies—especially radical Islam.
“By working together, Trump and Netanyahu can defeat the common foes of their countries,” Glick said, “and the success of their joint efforts will bring about the defeat of their bureaucratic enemies and the establishments working to undermine them.”