US gives muted response to Israeli elections

“The Israeli elections pose a serious challenge to the Biden administration,” said Natan Sachs of the Brookings Institute.

By Andrew Bernard The Algemeiner

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides on Wednesday said it was too early to speculate about the composition of Israel’s next governing coalition, as votes from Tuesday’s election continue to be counted. With 86% of the vote tallied, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc is on track to win 65 seats, opening the door for his return to the premiership with a solid majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared values,” Nides said.

Of particular focus for US-Israel relations is the success of the far-right Religious Zionism Party, led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, which is set to be the third largest party in the Knesset with about 14 seats and likely to be a major constituent of the incoming coalition government.

“The Israeli elections pose a serious challenge to the Biden administration: What to do with an ally government that will include senior members who are clearly beyond the pale,” Natan Sachs, Director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution told The Algemeiner.

“Itamar Ben Gvir and his party members represent a brand of politics so odious and contrary to American values that the administration will have to address it. American administrations in the past have managed to separate their engagement with some foreign governments and their constituent parts—in Austria, and even in Lebanon—and they will likely need to find a similar formula with the next Israeli government.”

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“The Biden administration doesn’t have a good history of relations with Netanyahu, and if he takes on these far-right extremists into his government and into his cabinet, then I think we’re in for a rocky road,” former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told Israel’s Channel 12.

US Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA-30) last month encouraged Israeli leaders to forego working with Ben-Gvir.

“I urge Israeli political leaders from all sides of the political spectrum to ostracize extremists like Itamar Ben-Gvir whose outrageous views run contrary to Israel’s core principles of a democratic and Jewish state,” he said on Twitter. “These extremists undermine Israel‘s interests and the U.S.-Israel relationship, which I and my colleagues have worked to strengthen.”

The final vote count is expected to be completed on Thursday and certified on November 9th. The certified results will then be sent to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who has until November 16th to conclude consultations on who will be selected to form the new government. That person then has 28 days to form a government, which can be extended by Herzog for an additional 14 days.

During his visit to the United States last week, Herzog highlighted continuity in US-Israel ties despite the upcoming elections in both countries.

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“My visit…is intended to underscore that our alliance is above all politics and it transcends all governments and political disagreements. That’s how it’s always been and that’s how it shall always remain,” Herzog said, standing beside Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. Capitol on October 25th.