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Still friends? Violence in the Middle East tests Biden and Netanyahu’s friendship

And yet none of it seemed to bother Biden, a career-build politician, about to cross the aisle.

“I signed a picture for Bibi a long time ago,” Biden, using Netanyahu’s nickname, told the audience in the fall of 2014, according to a media report. “He’s been a friend for over 30 years. I said, ‘Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you.’ “

That friendship is being tested again today when Israel clashes with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu, who praised Biden’s presidential predecessor and rival Donald Trump for taking a series of pro-Israel moves, faces both political and legal threats. He is on trial on corruption charges and recently failed to form a government coalition following Israel’s fourth election in two years.

At the moment, Biden is firmly with his buddy and probably strengthens him politically. He spoke to Netanyahu on Wednesday and assured him of the US’s unwavering support for Israel as it repels hundreds of Hamas-fired rockets and reciprocated with air strikes in Gaza. “My expectation and hope is that this will stop sooner rather than later, but Israel has the right to defend itself,” Biden told reporters.

However, if the conflict drags on and the casualties among the Palestinian civilian population continue to increase, Biden could face increased pressure to contain Israel. Some of this pressure is likely to come from his fellow Democrats, more and more of whom have given up the party’s once reflexive support for Israel.

“On the one hand, [the Biden administration] clearly hopes to rely on the boilerplate approach that has long been the norm in US-Israel relations, such as saying that they support Israel’s right to defend itself when it does occupied bomb area occupied, ”said Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian-American analyst. “But I think they recognize changing politics in the United States and in their own party.”

On Friday, Israel pounded Gaza with air strikes in return for the Hamas rocket fire. According to The Associated Press, more than 120 Palestinians were killed, as were at least seven Israelis. Some of the deaths occurred in the West Bank, where Palestinians held demonstrations and clashed with Israeli security forces. Violence caused by separate Arab and Jewish mobs also continues in various Israeli cities. Meanwhile, Egyptian officials have tried to broker a ceasefire.

When asked on Friday whether Israel is acting cautiously, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that Israel has a right to defend itself, that the US regards Hamas as a terrorist organization, and that the goal is to continue the fighting to end.

“We have been incredibly involved here at the highest levels,” said Psaki, adding that Biden is keeping pace with developments and has asked his aides to “engage closely with the Israelis, the Palestinians, as well as leaders and partners in the region employ “work towards a more lasting peace. “

As a sign that the government is aware of Palestinian sensitivities – and is changing democratic politics – Biden used relatively unusual language in a Friday statement about a Muslim holiday celebration at the White House.

“Palestinians – including in Gaza – and Israelis equally deserve to live in dignity, security and security,” said Biden. “No family should fear for their safety in their own home or place of worship.”

Personal politics as the key to foreign policy

Biden’s relationship with Netanyahu is based in part on his longstanding love and support for Israel. In an old C-SPAN clip shared by activists and analysts this week, a much younger Joe Biden says the United States shouldn’t have to apologize for supporting Israel and giving it billions of dollars in military aid.

“There is no excuse, no,” he said. “If there were no Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect its interests in the region.”

Biden has long believed that personal relationships are key to shaping foreign policy. Even when Obama was attacked by Netanyahu, Biden managed to keep his relations with the Israeli leader from deteriorating. In due course, Obama reached out to Biden to reach out to Jewish or pro-Israel organizations and discuss sensitive issues such as the Iranian nuclear deal.

But Biden aides, who previously worked for Obama, have not forgotten Netanyahu’s little things that easily. These affronts included failing to tell the White House in 2015 that the Israeli Prime Minister was visiting Washington at the invitation of the Republicans deliver a speech to Congress beating up the nuclear deal.

Trump’s 2016 win was a huge boost for Netanyahu, who openly wooed the Republican. Trump took a strictly pro-Israeli approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US embassy there and effectively ending US aid to Palestinians.

When Biden was declared to have defeated Trump in the 2020 election, Netanyahu was particularly late in delivering congratulations compared to other world leaders, but he cited the friendship that many of these other leaders lacked.

“Joe, we have had a long and warm personal relationship for almost 40 years and I know you to be a great friend of Israel.” The Israeli leader tweeted.

By taking over the presidency, Biden put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a disadvantage. Realizing that neither side was ready for peace talks, he and his team decided that the United States was facing more pressing challenges, including dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and confronting China.

The bloodshed in recent days, originally sparked by disputes over access to holy sites and possible evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, has made it impossible to ignore the problem.

Biden has also tried to reconnect with the Iranian nuclear deal, an ongoing point of friction with Netanyahu.

In the midst of intense lobbying by the Israeli Prime Minister, Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 that lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for curtailing its nuclear program. Biden advisors are now indirectly talking to Iran in Vienna about how both sides can return to complying with the agreement. Meanwhile, Israel reportedly fell short of attempts to sabotage a resurrection of the deal, including an attack on an Iranian nuclear facility.

Netanyahu argues that the original deal is too weak and provides too much economic relief for Iran in exchange for temporarily disrupting its nuclear efforts. Israel sees Iran as an existential threat.

During his 2014 speech, telling North America’s Jewish associations of his love for Netanyahu, Biden made a promise he has repeated in the years since – A promise he hoped would convince Israel of America’s commitment to its security.

“We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Period. Period. Period, ”he said.

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