Jun 22, 2022 - World

Biden's balancing act in Israel

Joe Biden

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Israeli government's collapse will force President Biden to navigate a sensitive balancing act during his upcoming visit to Israel, which will take place three months before early elections.

The big picture: The survival of Prime Minster Naftali Bennett's government, which sidelined former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was the top priority of the Biden administration when it came to its policy on Israel.

Driving the news: Over the last year, Biden has worked closely with Bennett, including hosting him at the White House. But when the U.S. president arrives in Israel on July 13, he will be greeted by acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

  • Lapid will probably try to use the many hours of live coverage in the Israeli media during the visit as a boost to his election campaign.

The other side: A senior U.S. official said Biden will likely also meet Netanyahu, Lapid’s main political rival and opposition leader.

  • The two politicians go back 40 years and have had their ups and downs. An announcement of new settlements in East Jerusalem as then-Vice President Biden visited Israel in March 2010 created a crisis between the two leaders.
  • Biden waited a month after taking office to call Netanyahu for the first time as president.

What they're saying: Biden told reporters Tuesday there are no changes in his plan to visit Israel.

  • Earlier Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to both Lapid and Bennett over the phone to discuss the political situation in Israel and reassure them that Biden's visit is going ahead as planned, U.S. and Israeli officials said.
  • Blinken "underscored our respect for democratic processes and reiterated our unwavering commitment to the strong U.S.-Israel strategic relationship," as well as the two countries "continuing close coordination on regional and global issues," State Department spokesperson Ned Price added.

Between the lines: Many U.S. presidents have intervened in Israeli elections in some way, but Biden will likely try to avoid that perception, making the visit more about highlighting good relations with the Israeli people than with a specific government, according to U.S. officials.

  • Worth noting: Although Bennett will no longer be the prime minister, Israeli officials say he will likely meet Biden and join Lapid in some of the events during the visit.

What to watch: Lapid is expected to travel to New York in September — a month before the Israeli elections — for the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where he will likely try to get another meeting with Biden on the sidelines.

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