White House: Biden ‘looks forward’ to speaking with Netanyahu soon

The lack of a call from the president to Israel’s leader has been a source of growing concern.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

President Joe Biden “looks forward” to a call with Israel’s prime minister, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Thursday.

“The president looks forward to speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s obviously somebody that he has a long-standing relationship with,” Psaki said.

The lack of a call from the president to Israel’s leader has been a source of growing concern within Israel and among its supporters in the U.S., especially as “Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both spoke to him within days of taking office,” Reuters reports.

“Obviously there’s an important relationship that the United States has with Israel on the security front and as a key partner in the region,” Psaki said. “He’ll be talking with him soon – I don’t have a specific date or time for you on that call yet.”

Netanyahu, who called Biden to congratulate him on his victory shortly after the election but hasn’t spoken with him since, has downplayed the lack of communication. “I have known Joe Biden for almost 40 years, and he’s my personal friend,” Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 20 on Wednesday.

Open channels of communication are more important to Israel than the U.S. at the moment as Israel is eager to influence Biden’s policy regarding Iran. Biden made it a campaign pledge to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal that was brokered when he was vice president under Obama. Israel considered the deal a disaster and one which would pave the way for the Islamic state to obtain nuclear weapons.

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Israel enjoyed a warm relationship with the U.S. under the Trump administration, which saw eye-to-eye on the Iran deal and much else. Trump pulled out of that deal in 2018.

However, there are indications that the two countries may be on course to return to the chilly relations that existed during the Obama administration, which ended at a low point when in 2016 it abstained at the UN Security Council on an anti-Israel resolution demanding the Jewish State “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Critics point to worrying signs that the 2016 low point the Obama administration left off at may just be the starting point for the Biden administration. They note in particular Biden’s staff picks, including anti-Israel activists Maher Bitar as senior director of intelligence at the National Security Council and Hady Amr as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel-Palestine.

Also on the team are Robert Malley, who is the new American envoy to Iran and has a history of criticizing Israel, and Samantha Power, who will head the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Power played a key role in orchestrating the abstention on the 2016 UN resolution when she served as U.S. ambassador to the world body.

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In a particularly harsh assessment, Alex Joffe of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University has concluded that the Biden administration will adopt a “blatant and two-faced” approach to Israel, which he describes as “classic Obama,” promoting “ample rhetorical support for Israel” to appease American Jews, while implementing “policies that affect Israel negatively.”