A visit to the United States resurrects a besieged Netanyahu | ET REALITY


Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, landed in the United States on Monday a beleaguered man, beset by months of mass protests against his efforts to reduce the power of Israel’s Supreme Court.

He leaves Saturday revitalized and potentially emboldened. Over six days of high-level meetings with world leaders and tech entrepreneurs, analysts said Netanyahu improved his strained relationship with President Biden and burnished his reputation as a major player in the global state.

And he put criticism of his judicial reform on the back burner as a historic diplomatic agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia appeared to gain momentum.

On Friday, he capped his week with a speech to the UN General Assembly, saying that a deal with Saudi Arabia would “truly create a new Middle East.”

Netanyahu also deflected from his domestic challenges by positioning himself as a booster of the tech sector, holding surprising and sometimes incongruous discussions about artificial intelligence with tech leaders such as Elon Musk and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google.

In an exchange on Monday, Musk briefly asked Netanyahu about the judicial crisis during an hour-long public conversation.

Israel will be “a stronger democracy when everything calms down,” Netanyahu assured him.

“Yeah, sounds good,” Musk chimed in. “Well, I guess that’s cool, let’s get back to the AI.”

Netanyahu’s biggest boost came from his warm meeting Wednesday with Biden.

Biden had avoided meeting Netanyahu since he returned to office last December, leading the most nationalist and religiously conservative coalition in Israel’s history, amid growing frustration in Washington over Netanyahu’s judicial plan and its entrenchment. of Israeli control. over the occupied West Bank.

In a joint appearance, Biden still made gently critical comments about judicial reform and briefly pressed Netanyahu to preserve the possibility of a Palestinian state.

But the president also invited Netanyahu to the White House before the end of the year. That small but symbolic prize was awarded to Netanyahu without him changing course either towards the judiciary or towards the Palestinians. But it makes it easier for Netanyahu to present himself as a firm guarantor of Israel’s alliance with the United States, a partnership that domestic critics had accused him of jeopardizing.

Most importantly, Biden announced progress in US-led efforts to negotiate a formal relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hours later, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said negotiations had brought a deal closer.

Saudi Arabia has long ostracized Israel out of solidarity with the Palestinians. A diplomatic partnership between the most influential Arab country and the Jewish state would dramatically alter the power dynamics of the Middle East, in addition to enshrining Netanyahu’s legacy as a statesman.

The visit was completed with friendly meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who has clashed with Netanyahu in the past, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who had previously criticized Israel for doing too little to help his country fight the Russian war. invasion.

“This week he has done extremely well, as well as he could have expected when he left Israel,” said Michael J. Koplow, an analyst at the Israel Policy Forum, a New York research group. “From a political standpoint, I think she’s in much better shape today than she was last week.”

The protests that have plagued Netanyahu all year in Israel still followed him to the United States.

Hundreds of protesters were waiting for him upon his arrival in California and then in New York. They stood outside his meeting with Biden and gathered in the streets near the United Nations before his speech to the General Assembly on Friday.

Their actions represented a watershed moment: While American critics of Israel have long protested against Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, rarely, if ever, have so many Israeli expatriates and American Jewish representatives gathered to oppose Israel’s domestic policies. an Israeli prime minister.

Protest leaders said their presence alone ensured that Netanyahu did not completely avoid a conversation about his judicial reform, which his opponents say will undermine Israeli democracy by removing a key check on government overreach.

“At least the screen was split,” said Offir Gutelzon, an Israeli tech entrepreneur who lives in California that helped lead the protests. “There was always a photo of the protests next to the photo of the meeting with Biden.”

For Biden, geopolitical considerations for the United States — the need to preserve strong ties with Israel and the possibility of building new ones between Israel and Saudi Arabia — ultimately appeared to be more important than any personal frustration with Netanyahu’s judicial plan or rapprochement. to the Palestinians.

“My conclusion is that Biden can’t live with Netanyahu, but he also can’t live without him,” said Aaron D. Miller, a former top U.S. diplomat who focused on the Middle East. “That means a functional relationship with Israel, not a soap opera.”

Miller added: “I think the big losers here are the Israeli democracy movement and, of course, the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu also appeared to have tempered, at least for now, some of the harsher criticism expected from parts of the American Jewish community.

Last week, American Jewish leaders had expressed caution about Netanyahu’s meeting with Musk, who failed to stem a sharp rise in anti-Semitism on his social media platform, X, and whose critics feared would be reinforced by an audience with the Israeli government. Prime Minister.

But while Netanyahu avoided harsh criticism of Musk, he said enough to indicate concern about Musk’s actions to attract recognition from watchdog groups like the Anti-Defamation League.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu had a very successful diplomatic week, and at least for some American Jews, that has certainly helped alleviate concerns about the political problems in Israel,” said William C. Daroff, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Israel. Major American Jewish Organizations.

For Netanyahu, the biggest challenge could await him at home.

The United States has often been a comfort zone for Netanyahu: it was where he cut his teeth in diplomacy as an ambassador in the 1980s, building an international reputation as an able spokesman for Israeli interests, as well as a familiarity and affection for Israel. American culture.

During a meeting this week in New York, he sent an assistant to bring him donuts, expressly demanding Dunkin’ Donuts, a brand not easily available in Israel, prompting laughter from a group of visitors.

In Israel, he faces a harsher reception, not only from his opponents but also from his nominal allies.

Before making peace with Israel, Saudi Arabia wants the United States and Israel to agree to allow it to develop a civilian nuclear program. He also wants Israel to grant at least some kind of concession to Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, perhaps giving them greater autonomy or ceding more land to Palestinian municipalities.

Both ideas drew criticism this week from members of Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist coalition, who oppose greater Palestinian sovereignty and fear that the Saudi government could use a nuclear reactor to make a nuclear bomb.

“Dangerous madness,” Tally Gotliv, a coalition lawmaker, said Thursday of the nuclear proposal.

That kind of reaction means Netanyahu’s successful week abroad won’t necessarily create lasting dividends at home, said Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist and Netanyahu biographer.

“Netanyahu can return to Israel and say: mission accomplished,” Pfeffer said.

But parts of the Saudi deal were always likely to create a coalition crisis, Pfeffer said. “And that has not changed”.

Leave a Comment