Aug 25, 2021 - World

What Israel's Bennett wants from his White House meeting with Biden

Naftali Bennett
Bennett. Photo: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett want to use their meeting on Thursday to project that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is off to a fresh start, Israeli and U.S. officials involved in the visit tell Axios.

Why it matters: The leaders will discuss Iran, military aid to Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, China and more. Both need a successful meeting for their own domestic political reasons and want to build a personal relationship.

For the past 12 years, it was Benjamin Netanyahu making these trips to Washington, and Netanyahu's tenure is in many ways the impetus that's driving Bennett and Biden together.

  • Bennett wants to move on from Netanyahu's frequent bickering with Barack Obama and Biden and believes policy differences can be better managed through a less confrontational approach, one of his aides tells me.
  • "Joe Biden is a true friend of Israel. There is a new government in Israel and a new administration in the U.S., and I am bringing with me a new spirit of cooperation," Bennett said before departing from Tel Aviv.
  • The Biden administration is also intent on helping to stabilize Bennett's eclectic "anti-Netanyahu" coalition, which includes fellow right-wingers as well as parties from the center and left.

Driving the news: Bennett arrived in Washington on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he has meetings with Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

  • He will arrive at the White House on Thursday at around 11:30am.
  • This will be Bennett's first trip to the White House, and he enters it with very little experience meeting other world leaders.
  • Behind the scenes: Speaking with his advisers on the flight to Washington, Bennett reflected on the road that has led him to this point and admitted he was excited about the upcoming meeting.

Bennett's main priority for his meeting with Biden is Iran. He plans to tell Biden that, unlike Netanyahu, he wants to cooperate with the U.S. on that issue, an Israeli official said.

  • But Bennett will also stress the urgent need for a “Plan B” as an Iranian return to the 2015 nuclear deal seems increasingly unlikely. That plan should also address Iran's regional activity, the official said.
  • In his meetings with Biden and Austin, Bennett is expected to ask for more U.S. military aid — both to replenish the Iron Dome missile defense system but also to build up Israeli military capabilities against Iran and its proxies.
  • Bennett will also propose that Biden use the burgeoning regional alignment under the Abraham Accords as part of a strategy to counter Iran, Israeli officials say.

On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Biden and Bennett are far apart. Biden is committed to the two-state solution, which Bennett rejects.

  • But they agree that conditions aren't ripe for direct peace talks and that they should instead focus on improving the situation on the ground in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and preventing escalation.
  • Bennett’s aides think that this creates a wide range of issues on which Israel and the U.S. can work together.

Bennett also expects to discuss three issues that are higher priorities for Biden than the Middle East: climate change, COVID-19 and China.

  • Bennett will present a new policy that will treat relations with China as a national security issue and pay greater heed to U.S. concerns, an Israeli official said.
  • Chinese investments in Israel were a rare point of tension between Netanyahu and Donald Trump.
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