Congratulating Biden, Netanyahu urges him to build on peace deals, confront Iran

Unlike after his election victory, Israeli leaders waste no time in welcoming new US president; PM also tweets thanks to Trump ‘for all the great things you have done for Israel’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulates US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris following their inauguration, January 20, 2021 (video screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulates US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris following their inauguration, January 20, 2021 (video screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin congratulated Joe Biden on his inauguration as the 46th US president on Wednesday and urged him to build on the series of peace deals the Trump administration brokered between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.

Netanyahu, in a video message, also highlighted an area on which the leaders appear to be headed for confrontation, urging the new president to work with Israel to confront “the threat posed by Iran.” Biden has said he intends to reenter the 2015 Iran deal, which Netanyahu bitterly opposed and successfully lobbied president Donald Trump to abandon.

“President Biden, you and I have had a warm personal friendship going back many decades,” Netanyahu said in the English-language video statement issued moments after Biden took the oath of office. “I look forward to working with you to further strengthen the US-Israel alliance, to continue expanding peace between Israel and the Arab world and to confront common challenges — chief among them the threat posed by Iran.”

In his congratulatory message, Rivlin said that the US has no better friend than Israel and that the ties between the two countries go beyond political parties and are based on shared values.

“Our region is changing quickly. Many of the changes are positive. The recent peace deals between Israel and our neighbors brought new hope with them and I expect to work with you to help build further bridges in the region, including with our Palestinian neighbors,” Rivlin said.

Biden has praised the normalization deals Israel reached with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, and his aides have expressed interest in building on them. However, his nominee for secretary of state Antony Blinken warned Tuesday that he would take a “hard look” at some of the apparent side agreements involved, such as the sale of F-35s to Abu Dhabi. That purchase was officially signed on Wednesday.

Biden’s election also represents a return to US support for a more traditional two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump released a peace plan based on that same concept, but it envisioned Israel annexing every one of its West Bank settlements. Biden, on the other hand, has been a vocal critic of the settlement movement and of Netanyahu’s efforts to annex large parts of the West Bank.

The speedy messages of congratulations, particularly from Netanyahu, were a contrast from those issued after major TV networks called the election for Biden on November 7 — when the premier was one of the last major world leaders to recognize Biden’s win. Netanyahu over the past four years has become one of Trump’s closest backers, and Israel, which has benefited from a slew of moves by the former president, is one of the only countries where the deeply controversial leader enjoyed positive polling.

Netanyahu has also been accused by critics of mortgaging his relations with the Democratic party due to his bare-hug embrace of Trump, following several years of very public breaks with the Democratic Obama administration over its promotion of the Iran nuclear deal.

Then-US Vice President Joe Biden, right, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2016. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

That is once again expected to be an issue of contention between the countries as Biden has pledged to reenter the accord, vacated by Trump, so long as Iran returns to strict compliance with it. Netanyahu has already publicly warned Biden that such a strategy would be a mistake.

And while he was quick to congratulate Biden, Netanyahu followed it up with one last goodbye to Trump.

“President Trump, thank you for all the great things you have done for Israel, especially your historic recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and bringing four peace agreements between Israel and the Arab world,” his office tweeted.

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan in his New York office on October 13, 2020. (Israeli Mission to the UN)

Israel ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan, who will take on the additional role of envoy to the US on Thursday, was in Washington for the inauguration. In his own video statement, he noted that “relations between Israel and the United States have been deep and strong for many years.”

“As the incoming ambassador, I look forward to working with the new administration and strengthen relations even further. President Biden and Vice President Harris, Israeli citizens look forward to your visit to Jerusalem,” he said.

Politicians from across the political spectrum joined Netanyahu and Rivlin in welcoming the new US president and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“This is a special moment for America, and for the entire world,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

“There are so many challenges that face us all: containing Iranian regional aggression and nuclear aspirations, fighting terror groups and destabilizing forces, expanding normalization, and reaching a resolution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict,” said the Blue and White leader.

“I look forward to working with the Biden administration, and with my friends at the Pentagon, in taking on these challenges together.”

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi tweeted: “I am confident that under your leadership, the relationship between Israel and the US, our greatest ally and friend, will continue to flourish. I wish you much success throughout your presidency.”

In his own video message, New Hope party chairman Gideon Sa’ar, Netanyahu’s top rival in the upcoming Israeli election, told Biden, “All through your career, you have championed the unbreakable bond between the US and Israel.

“I look forward to working with you to strengthen the US-Israel alliance and bipartisan support for Israel.”

Opposition chairman and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid tweeted that he was “looking forward to working with you over the coming years to strengthen the special relationship between our two countries and advance our shared values.”

Nitzan Horowitz, chairman of the left-wing Meretz party, tweeted simply: “May it happen for us soon too,” a reference to his desire to see Netanyahu ousted from his post.

In a separate post, Horowitz wrote: “As an Israeli, as a Jew and as a person in this world, I am full of joy over Biden’s victory. A decent man, experienced and considerate, with a good heart.”

“This is a major repair after the disgrace of Trump,” he said.

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