THE MEDIA LINE — As the final ballots are cast and America waits with bated breath to discover who will be president come Inauguration Day on January 20, back in Israel tensions appear to be running just as high.
Government officials and members of Knesset have largely avoided naming their favorite, yet some have hinted whom they would prefer to prevail, while Israeli representatives for the Republican and Democratic parties stress the choice for the Jewish state could not be clearer.
“If [Democratic nominee Joe] Biden wins, it will take some time to build that relationship. I was there when Trump won. It takes time to put people in place and for them to learn the issues; it’s a long transitional process. But we will work well with both candidates.”
“We will work with whoever wins,” stresses Danny Danon, who has served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations throughout President Donald Trump’s first term. “[Israel] has a long history of partnerships and bonds with the US, based on our common values.”
“If [Democratic nominee Joe] Biden wins, it will take some time to build that relationship,” Danon told The Media Line. “I was there when Trump won. It takes time to put people in place and for them to learn the issues; it’s a long transitional process. But we will work well with both candidates.”
While most Israeli government officials have insisted on remaining neutral in the days leading up to the presidential election, some, like Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen on Monday, seemed to clearly pick sides between the two candidates.
Cohen claimed there were at least five more countries willing to join the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in signing normalization agreements with Israel, but that for that to happen, the next president must “continue the Trump policy.”
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said in a radio interview on Tuesday that he hopes the US president will be elected to another term. “I pray for Trump’s victory in the election. In the last four years, he has shown true friendship with the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” Deri said. He added, “Biden is also a friend of Israel, but if, God forbid, Trump is not elected, I know who will be happy: the Iranians, Hizbullah, Hamas and others.”
A conciliatory attitude toward the Iranian regime, like that which Cohen said the Obama Administration pursued, might lead to the nixing of peace deals with Morocco, Qatar, Oman, Niger and Saudi Arabia, Cohen said.
Danon identifies this as one “major issue” that differentiates the two nominees.
“For Israel and the moderate Arab countries in the region, the major issue is the approach to the [2015 Iran nuclear deal]. We heard from Biden and his team that they are looking to reenter and improve the agreement. Trump hinted that maybe he will enter into negotiations with Iran, but for now he is taking another course which is outside the agreement,” Danon said, referring to the accords the president has brokered between Israel and three Arab countries.
“When I speak with colleagues from neighboring countries, this is the No. 1 issue they are concerned about after the elections,” he said.
While Israeli officials have in recent weeks reiterated their confidence in being able to work equally well with the US administration regardless of which candidate is in the White House, it is believed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition is pulling for a Trump victory, following four years of close coordination and friendly political gestures between the two leaders.
“I have good relations with Republicans, but unlike Netanyahu, I’ve managed to maintain working and friendly relations with Democratic leadership in the Senate and the House.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, criticized Netanyahu on Monday for what he claimed was a reckless partisan endorsement of Trump over the past four years.
“I have good relations with Republicans,” Lapid said, “but unlike Netanyahu, I’ve managed to maintain working and friendly relations with Democratic leadership in the Senate and the House.”
Added Lapid: “One thing we do know: The next president of the US will be a friend of Israel.”
Mark Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel and a vice president of Republicans Overseas, sees stark differences between the candidates.
“Given the proclaimed policies of Biden’s team, Israel is in for some tough times [if he wins]. I think it’s going to be worse than the Obama-Biden days,” Zell told The Media Line.
Among the most concerning policies a Democratic administration might enact, according to Zell, would be rejoining the Iranian nuclear deal, restoring payments and support to the Palestinian Authority and UN institutions like UNESCO and UNRWA, and reopening the consulate in eastern Jerusalem.
“But the worst thing Biden could do is stop what’s happening in the Gulf,” Zell stresses.
“Biden is a true friend of Israel, always has been, and Netanyahu knows this. He will restore America to its rightful place of being a leader in diplomacy and international affairs and put an end to the chaos. When the US is strong and leads with its values, then it’s able to be a good friend to its allies including Israel, and a strong deterrence to its enemies like Iran.”
Heather Stone, chairwoman of Democrats Abroad in Israel, disagrees.
“Biden is a true friend of Israel, always has been, and Netanyahu knows this,” she told The Media Line. “He will restore America to its rightful place of being a leader in diplomacy and international affairs and put an end to the chaos. When the US is strong and leads with its values, then it’s able to be a good friend to its allies including Israel, and a strong deterrence to its enemies like Iran.”
Over the past few years, bipartisan support for Israel in Washington, historically a foregone conclusion, has diminished, with some Democratic members of Congress sharply criticizing the Netanyahu administration, and Netanyahu aligning himself almost exclusively with the Republican agenda.
Stone believes the widening rift between the Democratic Party and the current Israeli government can be fixed.
“I think a lot of it depends on Netanyahu and what he chooses to do,” she states, adding she was encouraged that the prime minister did not take the bait in a recent televised phone conversation with Trump, in which the president disparaged Biden and invited Netanyahu to join in.
“The extremes are always heard louder. But when you look at the majority of the candidates and people who sit in Congress, I feel we still have bipartisan support, which is important to us.”
Danon, who returned from his mission in New York last month, said he is not worried about the relationship between Israel and the American Congress.
“The extremes are always heard louder,” he says. “But when you look at the majority of the candidates and people who sit in Congress, I feel we still have bipartisan support, which is important to us,” Danon says.
“This partnership is not only in Israel’s interest but also in the US’s. In my five years in the UN, many times they supported us, but many times we supported them as well.
“As long we have the support of the people of the US, the bond will continue to be strong,” Danon says.