Aug 28, 2021 - World

Israeli PM tells Biden he won't publicly campaign against Iran deal

Biden and Bennett

President Biden greets Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House on Aug. 27. Photo: GPO/ Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told President Biden in their meeting on Friday at the White House that although he is against a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, he isn’t going to publicly campaign against it like his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, two U.S. sources briefed on the meeting told Axios.

Why it matters: Biden and his senior advisers are veterans of the intense confrontations between Netanyahu and former President Obama on Iran.

  • The differences between the parties turned into mud fights in the media, which only exacerbated tensions and harmed relations. This situation reached its height when Netanyahu campaigned against the nuclear deal in 2015, including during a speech before the U.S. Congress.

Driving the news: The two sources said Bennett reiterated this message during his meetings with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday. They added that Bennett said he believes dialogue between the United States and Israel will achieve better results.

  • “Prime Minister Bennett told the president that regardless of policy differences he wants to work according to rules of honesty and decency,” said a senior Israeli official who attended the meeting.

Behind the scenes: In his meetings with Biden and other senior U.S. officials, Bennett explained he wants to manage the U.S.-Israel relationship like he manages the relationships within his eclectic government, which has many diverging views, and solve differences in direct private conversations and not in the media, Israeli officials said.

  • In his meeting with Blinken, Bennett said he never thought he would head a coalition with left-leaning parties or a Muslim party, but he realized that although it is difficult, it is doable, a source briefed on the meeting said.
  • According to the source, Bennett said his philosophy of running the coalition is that when someone makes him angry, he doesn’t go to the press but picks up the phone. “This is how I want us to work. If you have an issue with something we do, call us and don’t go to the press,” he told Blinken.

The other side: The White House was satisfied with Bennett’s message. Barbara Leaf, one of Biden’s top Middle East advisers, stressed that in a conference call with representatives of Jewish organizations on Friday, two people who were on the call told Axios.

  • According to the people on the call, Leaf said she spent five hours with Bennett in meetings, including with the president. She said that regardless of their differences, the relationship got off to a good start.
  • Leaf said Biden also wants "drama-free" and direct communication, the people on the call told Axios.
  • “Leaf said Biden will be frank and tough if needed but only in private and not in the media,” according to the two people who were on the call.

Worth noting: The White House readout of the Biden-Bennett meeting referred to one of the main differences between the parties and said the president spoke to the Israeli prime minister about “the importance of refraining from actions that could exacerbate tensions, contribute to a sense of unfairness, and undermine efforts to build trust.”

  • A source briefed on the meeting said this line was referring mainly to the possible eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Leaf said in the call with the Jewish organizations that Biden raised the issue with Bennett, according to the sources on the call.

What’s next: The understandings between the parties on how to run the relationship will be tested in the coming weeks and months when Israel approves new building in the occupied West Bank settlements, which were delayed, and when the reopening of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem will come up again after the Israeli government passes its budget in November.

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