US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met in Rome on Sunday as their new governments seek to move on from former President Donald Trump and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose close relationship exacerbated partisan divisions within both countries.
With Trump in Florida and Netanyahu leading the opposition, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett are focusing on pragmatic diplomacy rather than dramatic initiatives that risk inciting domestic opposition or diverting attention away from other priorities.
Lapid stated that since taking office, he has spoken with Democrats and Republicans and has “reminded them all that we share America’s most basic, basic values — freedom, democracy, free markets, and the constant search for peace.”
Despite the fact that the two governments are new, Blinken stated that “the foundation that we’re working on is one of an enduring partnership, a relationship, and friendship between the United States and Israel.”
The push entails focusing on smaller goals, such as maintaining the informal cease-fire that ended last month’s war with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers and replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. This approach, of managing the conflict rather than attempting to resolve it, may be successful in masking domestic divisions. However, it also maintains a status quo that Palestinians find increasingly oppressive and hopeless, fueling countless cycles of unrest.
Americans and Israelis will try to settle their differences away from the public eye, as in Biden’s “quiet” diplomacy, when he privately urged Netanyahu to end the Israel-Hamas conflict ahead of a May 21 truce. Both governments will try to keep Israel’s fragile governing coalition together, in part by reducing provocations that contributed to the 11-day war that claimed at least 254 Palestinian lives and killed 13 Israelis.
Beyond the conviction that Netanyahu had to go, the new Israeli coalition has little in common. It is made up of eight parties, each of which has veto power over decisions. So, if even one party defected, Israel’s government would be in serious danger of collapsing, with Netanyahu just offstage.
In the short term, Lapid, a centrist, will serve as Israel’s point person for mending ties with Biden and the Democrats. The party controls both houses of Congress, but its members are increasingly divided on the Mideast conflict, with progressive members calling for the US to put more pressure on Israel.
The talks in Vienna to resurrect Iran’s 2015 agreement with world powers to limit Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons are at the top of both countries’ agendas. Trump, with Netanyahu’s support, withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018 and imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Biden stated that he would restore and expand the agreement.
Blinken spoke of the importance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he provided no timetable or strategy for “offering a more hopeful future for everyone: Palestinians and Israelis alike with equal measures of opportunity and dignity.”
And, while the Biden administration supports and hopes to expand on the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries, Blinken stated that they “are not a substitute for engaging on the issues that need to be resolved between Israelis and Palestinians.”
On the American side, the Biden administration has made it clear that it wants to pull the country out of the Middle East’s intractable conflicts and focus on other issues, such as climate change and competition with China.
Outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will visit Washington on Monday at Biden’s invitation. A group of House Democrats intends to travel to Israel as soon as Congress returns from its July 4th recess.
According to the officials, there is even talk of Lapid and Bennett traveling to Washington later this summer, either separately or together. Bennett will be prime minister for the first two years, followed by Lapid, the coalition’s architect.
Biden has moved to reverse Trump policies that have alienated Palestinians, and the administration has stated that Israelis and Palestinians should have equal levels of security and prosperity. However, the United States has yet to explain how it intends to achieve this without ending Israel’s half-century military occupation of the West Bank, its blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza, and discriminatory policies in Jerusalem that fueled a spring of unrest.