Israel's Netanyahu is planning a comeback.  That could be a problem for Biden's agenda in the Middle East

When President Joe Biden arrives in Israel on Wednesday, you will be greeted by a counterpart who shares your moderate and pragmatic style.

But Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid may not stay in power for long.

In a few months, Biden may be dealing again with Benjamin Netanyahuthe hard-line conservative who hugged former President Donald Trump and haunted former President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history and the current leader of the opposition, is hoping for a historic comeback in the upcoming election, even as he faces trial in three separate corruption cases.

The 72-year-old leader of the right-wing Likud party has divided Israel for years, being hailed as “King Bibi” among his devoted voters and allies, while his enemies hate him and accuse him of being corrupt and trying to undermine power. judicial system to escape judgment from him.

Lapid, a centrist who became caretaker prime minister after the recent collapse of a coalition government, he is Netanyahu’s main opponent.

‘It’s clear who (Biden) would prefer’

Biden has a decades-long history and good personal relationship with Netanyahu; he once said they were “comrades” despite their frequent political clashes.

by Netanyahu congratulatory tweet to Biden after the 2020 election he referred to their “long and warm personal relationship”.

But a Netanyahu resurgence would complicate Biden’s efforts to revive a nuclear deal with Iran and pressure Israel to improve its treatment of the Palestinians. Netanyahu could bypass Biden, as he did with Obama, and deal directly with Republicans in Congress.

“Netanyahu seemed to enjoy picking on Obama and disrespecting Obama,” said Osamah Khalil, a Syracuse University history professor who specializes in Middle Eastern affairs. Republicans, Khalil said, used Netanyahu to constantly criticize Obama on Israel, which has a powerful political base in the United States.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Pundits expect Biden to do everything he can during his trip to avoid putting the thumb in the balance for any candidate.

“It is clear who I would prefer. I would prefer Lapid,” said David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But he won’t want to do anything that Bibi can use in a way that would be a boomerang reaction.”

In fact, Biden is expected to meet with Netanyahu during his three days in Israel. The president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said it is “standard protocol” for the president to meet with leaders “from across the Israeli political spectrum.”

“This president and previous presidents have wanted to show that the relationship between the United States and Israel transcends politics, transcends party,” Sullivan said Monday. “It doesn’t matter who is in charge in Washington or who is in charge in Israel.”

Netanyahu’s strategy to regain power

Netanyahu was prime minister when Biden took office but was ousted the following June when a coalition government, including eight separate parties, came to power. was directed by naftali bennett and Lapid, who agreed to a rotation to serve as prime minister.

The eight-party coalition consisted of Bennett’s nationalist party, as well as parties from the right, center and left and, for the first time in the country’s history, an Arab-Israeli party.

Netanyahu’s re-election campaign focuses on two main themes, namely a claim that Lapid relies on “supporters of terrorism” to win the election, a reference to Israeli Arab parties in parliament, as well as a promise to lower consumer prices in Israel. .

“Lapid cannot form a government without the United Arab List (UAL) and the Joint List and the public knows how dangerous that is. I think this message is working quite well for us,” Micky Zohar, a Likud lawmaker and close confidant of Netanyahu, told USA Today. The UAL and the Joint List are Arab parties.

Mia Bengel, the spokeswoman for Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, said Netanyahu is the one joining forces “with anti-democratic extremists and illiberals in the hope of getting a majority.” She called him “an accused criminal who does not hesitate to endanger Israeli democracy in his campaign to escape the law.”

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Israel's interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid chairs his first cabinet meeting, days after lawmakers dissolved parliament, in Jerusalem on Sunday, July 3, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via AP) XMIT ORG: CAITH102

Israel’s interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid chairs his first cabinet meeting, days after lawmakers dissolved parliament, in Jerusalem on Sunday, July 3, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via AP) XMIT ORG: CAITH102

Unlike his political rivals, Netanyahu has begun an intense election campaign on social media, posting clips of him visiting malls and markets in Jerusalem, talking to Israelis about the cost of living.

A new wrinkle for Biden’s agenda in the Middle East?

According to the most recent poll by the Israeli newspaper Maariv, Netanyahu’s Likud party will remain the largest in parliament, with 36 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Prime Minister Lapid’s party will be the second largest and is likely to elect 23 members. Netanyahu’s bloc, which consists of Likud, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, as well as the far-right Religious Zionism party, is projected to receive a combined 61 seats, the slimmest majority needed to form a new government.

“If he comes back, we are going to see once again, and even more intensely, the gap between where the United States would like things to be and where the prime minister is leading them,” said Nimrod Novik, a former foreign policy expert. adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and now a member of the Israel Policy Forum, an organization that supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That’s because Netanyahu’s coalition will be beholden to those with the most extreme anti-Arab and pro-settler views, Novik said. And they will have learned from Netanyahu’s latest defeat not to “waste the moment” if he regains power.

Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, said that Netanyahu could disrupt recent agreements reached between the US and Israel on how to deal with Iran.

Rather, Biden and Lapid are sympathetic in important ways, sharing similar experiences of fighting to unite nations divided by political divide, Indyk said. during a recent interview with the Israel Policy Pod. Lapid’s first speech as prime minister reminded Indyk of Biden’s inaugural address, addressing the theme of uniting around common goals.

“That’s the nature of these two politicians,” he said, “pragmatists trying to promote a moderate agenda in a very extreme situation.”

Israel's former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022.

Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden’s Middle East agenda could change if Netanyahu regains power

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