Nov 4, 2020 - World

Netanyahu keeps quiet with U.S. election in the balance

Illustration of Benjamin Netanyahu barometer

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Pool, Gali Tibbon/Getty Images

While Joe Biden and Donald Trump were giving their initial election night reactions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ordering ministers from his Likud party to refrain from any public statements on the vote, two ministers tell me.

Why it matters: Netanyahu has closer relations with Trump than any other world leader, but he doesn't want to give even the slightest impression that he's taking sides before the results are final, Israeli officials told me.

What they're saying:

  • Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein dodged a question about the U.S. election at a press conference today, saying he wanted to wait until all the votes were counted.
  • Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, also from Likud, wouldn’t discuss the election in a radio interview except to say that he didn’t think a Biden administration would roll back Trump’s policies on “legalizing” West Bank settlements. Biden has publicly opposed settlements.

Flashback: Trump was disappointed that Netanyahu declined to publicly endorse him during a phone call held before TV cameras on Oct. 23, one Netanyahu aide told me.

  • During the call to announce an Israel-Sudan normalization agreement, Trump asked Netanyahu if “Sleepy Joe” could have sealed such a deal. Netanyahu gave a diplomatic answer and said he'd be happy to work for peace with any American partner.
  • One of Trump’s advisers told his Israeli counterpart about Trump’s disappointment in an informal conversation, Netanyahu’s aide said.
  • The Israeli side then checked in formally with the White House to see if there was an issue, but was reassured that things were fine.
  • Between the lines: Netanyahu has been hoping his ideological ally will win, but he doesn't want to get off on the wrong foot with a potential President Biden.

Behind the scenes: Netanyahu was following the coverage overnight on multiple American TV networks. He also spoke on the phone with Israel's U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, for updates and analysis.

  • One aide to Netanyahu said the prime minister came into Election Day concerned about a Biden landslide.
  • But by Wednesday morning in Israel, Netanyahu was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of a Trump victory.

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