Ten days after all major US networks called the election for Joe Biden, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday evening spoke to Joe Biden and congratulated him on his election victory in two separate phone calls.
Both men referred to the former US vice president as the president-elect — a first for Netanyahu — ending a long saga in which Israel was seen as unwilling to take a position on the election outcome.
Though Netanyahu had previously congratulated Biden in a general statement, he had failed to say what for; and on Monday he appeared to purposefully avoid calling him the president-elect. Rivlin referred to Biden as such on November 8.
Described by the Prime Minister’s Office as a “warm conversation,” the Biden-Netanyahu call was reportedly scheduled several days ago, was said to have lasted 20 minutes, and featured a joint commitment by the two to meet in the near future.
Netanyahu’s office issued a brief statement on the call, which read in full: “PM Netanyahu Speaks with President-elect Joe Biden: Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke this evening (Tuesday, 17 November 2020) with US President-elect Joe Biden. In a warm conversation, the President-elect reiterated his deep commitment to the State of Israel and its security. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the special bond between Israel and the US is a fundamental component of Israel’s security and its policy. The two agreed to meet soon in order to discuss the many issues on the agenda and reiterated the need to continue bolstering the steadfast alliance between the US and Israel.”
A statement from Biden said he reiterated to Netanyahu “his steadfast support for Israel’s security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state” and “noted that he expects to work closely with the prime minister to address the many challenges confronting [the two] countries.”
The reference to a “Jewish and democratic state” was telling, since it indicates support for a two-state solution under which Israel would separate from most Palestinians, thus maintaining its Jewish and democratic character. Outgoing US President Donald Trump had at times been ambivalent about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinians conflict, although his peace “vision” unveiled in January provides for conditional Palestinian statehood in some 70 percent of the West Ban with some additional land swaps from inside Israel.
Biden also “expressed his determination to ensure that the US-Israel relationship is strengthened and enjoys strong bipartisan support.”
Channel 13 news reported that the Biden-Rivlin call, “curiously,” took place before the Netanyahu-Biden call. Rivlin’s office was thus the first to issue a statement, at 7:00 p.m., reporting that, in their conversation, the Israeli president hailed the US president-elect as “a long-standing friend of the State of Israel,” stressed that relations go “beyond partisan politics,” and said Israel had “no doubt that, under your leadership, the United States is committed to Israel’s security and success.”
According to a readout from the president’s office, Rivlin further said the US “has no stronger ally than the State of Israel; there is nothing stronger than the friendship between the American people and the Israeli people; and the President of the United States of America has no greater friend than the President of the State of Israel, as we have proved over the years.
“As a long-standing friend of the State of Israel, you know that our friendship is based on values that are beyond partisan politics and that we have no doubt that, under your leadership, the United States is committed to Israel’s security and success,” Rivlin said.
Speaking just now with President-elect @JoeBiden to congratulate him, I said that as a old friend of #Israel he knows our friendship is based on values beyond partisan politics. We have no doubt that under his leadership the United States is committed to our security and success. pic.twitter.com/BLh9Dxl8A3
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) November 17, 2020
Rivlin went on to express hope that Biden would work to expand the list of countries who began normalizing relations with Israel during Trump’s tenure and extended an invitation for the president-elect to visit Jerusalem. Rivlin also asked Biden to convey his best wishes to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Biden’s office said he “underscored his deep commitment to Israel’s security” and looked forward “to working with Israel to build an ever stronger partnership between our two countries.”
Rivlin’s lengthy readout was followed 17 minutes later by the brief statement from Netanyahu’s office.
Netanyahu had tweeted congratulations to Biden 12 hours after US media called the election for the Democratic nominee on November 7, but the prime minister did not specify what he was lauding him for. It was widely assumed that Netanyahu refrained from referring to Biden as the president-elect to avoid angering Trump, who continues to refuse to concede the election.
Pressed on the matter earlier Tuesday on Galey Israel radio, Netanyahu shot back, “Why do I need to express an opinion? They have their organized processes, they have an internal process. I think that everyone more or less understands what will more or less happen.”
On Monday night, the premier came close to calling Biden the US president or president-elect, but corrected himself at the last second.
“I have been told that in the very near future I will talk with the president…,” the premier told reporters, before abruptly stopping and correcting himself: “Uh, with Joe Biden, who is supposed to be appointed the next president.”
Congratulations @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel. I look forward to working with both of you to further strengthen the special alliance between the U.S. and Israel.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) November 8, 2020
Netanyahu refused to respond to another part of the question asking him what he thought about Trump’s unfounded claims that widespread fraud was committed and that he had, in fact, won the election.
“We have enough politics over here,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu has built a close relationship with Trump and his administration, which reversed decades of US policy by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and removed opposition to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.
Netanyahu’s close ties with Trump and Republicans in his corner have led to concerns of a loss of bipartisan support for Israel in Washington. Netanyahu denied that this week, declaring: “Democrats and Republicans, it makes no difference.”
Trump has refused to concede defeat, making unsubstantiated allegations of serious fraud and vowing to take his case to the courts.