Israel: New Prime Minister and U.S. Relations

New prime minister and an end to Netanyahu’s rule. A group of disparate parties from across the political spectrum agreed in June 2021 to form a power-sharing government to replace long serving Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is being tried in an Israeli court on corruption charges. On June 13, the Knesset (Israel’s unicameral parliament) approved the new government, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of the Yamina party. Despite holding more right-of-center and nationalistic positions than Netanyahu on Palestinian issues and settlements, Bennett may be constrained by left-of-center and Arab-led parties in the coalition from taking action in line with those positions. The government is generally expected to focus on pragmatic management of Israel’s security and economy rather than controversial political initiatives, but Netanyahu and others in opposition may challenge its cohesion. If the government survives, Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party—the current foreign minister—will rotate into the prime minister’s office in August 2023, under the terms of the power-sharing agreement. The Arab-led, Islamist United Arab List is seeking to use its status as part of the coalition to have the government address socioeconomic inequalities among the Arab citizens who make up around 20% of Israel’s population. It is unclear to what extent the new government might change Israel’s approach to relations with the United States, including on important regional matters involving the Palestinians and Iran.

Israeli-Palestinian disputes, including the May 2021 Israel-Gaza conflict and its aftermath. In hopes of preserving the viability of a negotiated two-state solution among Israelis and Palestinians, Biden Administration officials have sought to help manage tensions, bolster Israel’s defensive capabilities, and strengthen U.S.-Palestinian ties that frayed during the Trump Administration. In May 2021, an 11-day conflict took place between Israel and Hamas (a U.S.-designated terrorist organization), which maintains de facto control within Gaza. It was the fourth major conflict of its kind, with previous ones occurring in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014. Intercommunal protests and violence also took place among Arabs and Jews within Israel and Jerusalem. Hamas apparently sought to capitalize on Arab-Jewish tensions over Jerusalem to increase its domestic popularity vis-à-vis rival faction Fatah. In April, Fatah’s leader Mahmoud Abbas—the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) president—had postponed plans for 2021 PA elections that many Palestinians had eagerly anticipated.

In the conflict’s aftermath, the Biden Administration appears focused on restoring regional calm and improving humanitarian conditions. It is unclear that the conflict decisively changed dynamics between the key parties affected—Israel, Hamas, and the PA. President Biden has pledged to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system, and legislative proposals may be forthcoming on supplemental U.S. military aid for Israel. With Gaza still under Hamas control, the obstacles to post-conflict recovery remain largely the same as in the past. Beyond providing short-term humanitarian assistance, the United States and other international actors face significant challenges in seeking to help with longer-term reconstruction without bolstering Hamas.

Further issus discussed:

Palestinians and Arab state normalization…

Iran and other regional issues…

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