Biden and Bennett seek to restore US-Israel relations and narrow differences over Iran

President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday will seek to restore the tone of relations between the United States and Israel in their first meeting at the White House and find common ground on Iran despite differences on how to deal with their nuclear program.

In talks overshadowed by the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the two leaders will try to turn the page on years of tensions between Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, close to former President Donald Trump, and the last Democratic administration led by Barack Obama with Biden. as his vice president.

In what has been planned as a low-key meeting, Bennett wants to move from Netanyahu’s combative public style and instead handle disagreements constructively behind closed doors between Washington and its closest ally in the Middle East.

The visit gives Biden the opportunity to show that he continues to work as usual with a key partner as he grapples with the complex situation in Afghanistan. Biden’s biggest foreign policy crisis since he took office has not only affected his approval ratings in the country, but has raised doubts about his credibility among friends and foes.

Iran tops the agenda, one of the thorniest issues between the Biden administration and Israel.

Bennett, a far-right politician who ended Netanyahu’s 12-year career as prime minister in June, is expected to pressure Biden to harden his approach to Iran and halt negotiations aimed at reviving the international nuclear deal that Trump abandonment.

Biden will tell Bennett that he shares Israel’s concern that Iran has expanded its nuclear program, but remains committed for now to diplomacy with Tehran, a senior administration official said. Negotiations between the United States and Iran have stalled as Washington awaits the next move from Iran’s new hardline president.

Briefing reporters ahead of the meeting, the official said: “Since the last administration abandoned the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s nuclear program has just dramatically come out of the box.”

The official said that if the diplomatic path with Iran fails, “there are other avenues to follow,” but did not elaborate.

Bennett has been less overtly combative but as adamant as Netanyahu was in pledging to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran, which Israel sees as an existential threat, from building a nuclear weapon. Iran consistently denies that it is looking for a bomb.

The two leaders are expected to speak briefly with a small group of reporters during their meeting in the Oval Office, but there will be no joint press conference, limiting the potential for public disagreement.

Disagree on Palestinian issues

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Biden and Bennett are also divided. Biden has renewed his support for a two-state solution after Trump distanced himself from that old principle of American politics. Bennett opposes the Palestinian state.

The consensus among Biden’s aides is that now is not the time to push for a resumption of long-dormant peace talks or major Israeli concessions, which could destabilize Bennett’s ideologically diverse coalition.

But Biden’s aides did not rule out asking Bennett for modest gestures to help prevent a repeat of the fierce fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that surprised the new US administration earlier this year.

Among the issues that could be raised in Thursday’s talks is the Biden administration’s goal of reestablishing a consulate in Jerusalem that serves the Palestinians that Trump closed. Biden’s aides have moved cautiously on the issue.

The administration has also emphasized that it opposes further expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied lands.

Bennett, 49, the son of American immigrants in Israel, has been a vocal advocate for settlement building.

Biden’s advisers are also aware that Israeli officials may be concerned about the apparent failure of US intelligence to predict Afghanistan’s rapid fall to the Taliban.

Biden intends to reassure Bennett that the end of the US military presence in Afghanistan does not reflect a “de-prioritization” of US engagement with Israel and other Middle Eastern allies, the senior US official said.

Biden will also discuss with Bennett behind-the-scenes efforts to get more Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel, the senior US official said. This would follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, which reached agreements with Israel negotiated by the Trump administration.

On Wednesday, Bennett met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He was expected to discuss, among other topics, resupplying the Iron Dome missile defense system that Israel relies on to defend against rocket attacks from Gaza.

(REUTERS)

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