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Biden congratulates Netanyahu on election win: ‘We’ll make history together’

Likud leader also takes phone call from Ukraine’s Zelensky, who reportedly invites him to Kyiv; tells US president he believes they’ll ink additional peace deals

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

Illustrative: Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to US President Joe Biden, from a Likud office in Tel Aviv on November 7, 2022. (Courtesy Likud)
Illustrative: Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to US President Joe Biden, from a Likud office in Tel Aviv on November 7, 2022. (Courtesy Likud)

US President Joe Biden phoned Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to congratulate him on last week’s election victory, as Washington aimed to portray a sense of business as usual, despite some apprehension regarding the likely entry of far-right figures into the next Israeli government.

Netanyahu also spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shortly after his call with Biden, promising to “seriously examine the Ukraine issue” upon entering office.

According to a Hebrew statement from Netanyahu’s office, during the eight-minute phone call with Biden, the US leader told Israel’s presumed next premier that “we’re brothers” and “we’ll make history together.” It did not say what exactly the president was referring to.

Netanyahu told the US president that together they would bring about additional “historic peace agreements,” ostensibly referring to the expansion of the Abraham Accords normalization deals between Israel and its Arab neighbors. “They are within reach,” the Likud readout quoted Netanyahu as saying.

“My commitment to our alliance and our relationship is stronger than ever,” Netanyahu added.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden congratulated Netanyahu and “commend[ed] Israel’s free and fair elections.”

“The president reaffirmed the strength of the bilateral partnership and underscored his unwavering support for Israeli security,” she added, noting that the US would “continue to closely monitor the government formation process” and looked forward “to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values.”

Members of Knesset Bezalel Smotrich, and Itamar Ben Gvir, along with MKs from the Religious Zionism party, visit at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, on October 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A subsequent White House readout said the two leaders agreed to speak again at the conclusion of Israel’s government formation process.

Shortly after the call with Biden, Netanyahu spoke with Zelensky, who also congratulated the Likud leader on the election win, according to a readout from the Netanyahu’s office. A Ukrainian official told the Kan public broadcaster that Zelensky invited Netanyahu to visit Kyiv.

Netanyahu reiterated the message he conveyed during the election campaign — that he would “seriously examine the Ukraine issue” upon entering office, the Likud readout said, noting that the call took place on the encrypted messaging app Signal.

Netanyahu has long boasted of his ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Netanyahu severely criticized the outgoing government, accusing it of mismanaging Israel’s ties with Moscow by avoiding a strictly neutral stance during the early days of the war. However, he more recently gave backing to the government’s “prudent” stance and said he would “look into” the issue of arming Ukraine if re-elected.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, meets then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, in Jerusalem, January 24, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The calls took place six days after the Netanyahu-led bloc of right-wing, religious parties managed to secure a 64-seat majority in the Knesset. While the Likud leader is only in the early stages of coalition negotiations, the far-right Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit alliance is expected to receive several prominent cabinet postings.

An official familiar with the matter said that the Biden administration is still waiting for the Israeli government to be formed before making any policy decisions. However, the US will likely have a hard time working with ministers such as Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, the official said.

Both have a long history of remarks against Arabs, Palestinians, LGBTQ individuals, and Judaism’s Reform movement. Smotrich was arrested during protests against the 2005 Gaza disengagement and Ben Gvir was convicted of incitement to racism and supporting a terror organization in 2007 for holding up a sign at a protest that read “Expel the Arab enemy” and “Kahane was right,” referring to the late-extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, whom Ben Gvir has described as his mentor. The MK claims that he has become more moderated in recent years and now differs from Kahane, in that he only supports expelling Arabs he deems “disloyal,” as opposed to all of them.

The pair of lawmakers could have a hard time securing visas to visit the US, even on official government business, given that the process requires a criminal background check.

Pressed for his reaction on the rise of the far-right in Israel, State Department spokesman Ned Price was careful to insist that the US would wait until the election results and government formation process were finalized. However, he did say that the US “hope[s] that all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of an open, democratic society including tolerance and respect for all in civil society, particularly for minority groups.”

Meanwhile, United States Ambassador Tom Nides spoke with United Torah Judaism lawmakers Moshe Gafni and Yitzhak Pindrus, according to a statement Tuesday from the Haredi party.

According to the statement, the US envoy “congratulated them on the election victory of the religious bloc,” and vowed to continue to work to strengthen relations between the two countries.

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