Benjamin Netanyahu joins Piers Morgan to discuss the waves of protest threatening his government
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JERUSALEM—The Biden administration is picking fights with the Jewish state over its opposition to a controversial new Iran nuclear deal, Israel’s efforts to reform its judiciary, and build settlements in the disputed West Bank territory, veteran observers of U.S.-Israel relations told Fox News Digital.
Jason Greenblatt, former White House Envoy to the Middle East and author of the book “In the Path of Abraham,” told Fox News Digital that he has concerns, especially when it comes to U.S. interference in domestic Israeli politics.
Two Israeli domestic issues—judicial reform and settlements—have created rifts between the U.S. and Israel. Netanyahu’s coalition is working to rope in what, it argues, is the excessive power of the judiciary. Opponents of the judicial reform say Netanyahu’s plan will shift too much power to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and endanger civil rights protections.
Greenblatt said, “The Biden Administration continues to put pressure on the Israeli government to abandon its judicial reform plans. This is blatant interference with another country’s internal policies. Israel has a robust democracy. The world has seen this with the massive protests for and against judicial reform. The Biden Administration continues to think that America can dictate what its allies’ policies should be. This kind of pressure by the U.S. upon other countries’ internal matters failed with Saudi Arabia and it will fail with Israel.”
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Left, President Biden speaks at a reception celebrating Women’s History Month in the East Room of the White House on March 22, 2023 in Washington. Right, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media following talks at the Chancellery on March 16, 2023 in Berlin. (Anna Moneymaker/Sean Gallup)
He also noted that, “Israel is a country that will act in accordance with its interests, laws and democratic procedures. Not inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House in the hopes of putting additional pressure on him is petty and will not yield the desired results. The U.S. has to learn to work with others where it can, and accept that we don’t get to boss our friends and allies around.”
Greenblatt said the record of the Biden administration on Israel is a mixed bag. “On the positive side, it often says the right things with respect to Israel’s non-Iran security challenges and generally has been cooperative regarding those challenges. According to the Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S.-Israel alliance remains steadfast and security and intelligence cooperation is at an all time high,” but Greenblatt had reservations with the administration’s Iran policy.
Middle East expert and author Caroline Glick, told Fox News Digital that U.S. “Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s sudden cancelation of his planned visit to Israel is a clear sign that the Biden administration had committed the United States to a policy of nuclear appeasement towards Iran. Last week we learned that the administration is surreptitiously negotiating a so-called ‘interim nuclear deal’ with the Iranian regime. The deal reportedly involves the U.S. dropping all of its sanctions against Iran and in exchange Iran will end its uranium enrichment.”
President Biden, left, signs the guestbook before talks with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog at the presidential office in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Israeli Government Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Washington D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News Digital, “I’m not sure if his cancelation is about internal Israeli issues or Iran issues. I’m more concerned that the Biden administration is secretly pursuing a deal with Iran, and Blinken prefers not to kick up a wave of scrutiny on that by coming to Israel.”
Glick claimed that, “From Israel’s perspective, the U.S. position means that the U.S. is no longer a credible ally. As such, Israel has no interest in coordinating its Iran policy with Washington. So there is no longer any reason for Secretary of State Blinken to visit Israel. And there is little reason for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House.”
With respect to Secretary of State Blinken’s reported cancelation of a trip to Israel, a State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital “The United States remains steadfast in our commitment to furthering the ironclad U.S.-Israel relationship. The Secretary has regularly visited Israel and the West Bank, and he will continue to do so. We have no travel to Israel and the West Bank to announce at this time.”
The spokesperson said that U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan recently met with his Israeli counterpart.
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Just last week, Chief of the United States Central Command, Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, arrived in Israel to observe the Israel Defense Forces’ two-week-long war drill. He also visited the IDF’s Unit 504, which specializes in human intelligence. Kurilla witnessed a mock assessment of the IDF’s “Firm Hand” drill, which is simulating a multi-front war. Iranian regime proxies armed with missiles are located on Israel’s southern border in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and on its northern border, where Hezbollah is based.
An aerial photograph showing protesters outside Israel’s parliament on March 27. (Israeli Knesset)
When questioned if the White House plans to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, a State Department spokesperson said that “We have no meetings with Israeli officials to announce at this time.”
Biden’s refusal to issue a formal state visit to Netanyahu remains an open wound for some in Israel and among Republicans, prompting Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy to say during his visit to Israel in May that if Biden does not extend an invitation, he will invite the Israeli leader.
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joel Rubin, who served during the Obama administration, echoed the views of the State Department. He told Fox News Digital “U.S.-Israel relations are incredibly strong. Senior Israeli officials visit Washington on a routine basis and vice-versa to Jerusalem. President Biden also made a tremendously successful visit to Israel last summer, highlighting the strong personal ties he has to Israel, built on more than 50 years of personal friendship and political support.”
President Biden, left, is welcomed by former Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in July, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)
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Rubin added, “Prime Minister Netanyahu understands this and as he works through the Israeli political debate over judicial reform, he has not once expressed a concern about the state of relations between Israel and the U.S. That should be enough to quash any concerns about a weakening of relations.”
On criticism over Netanyahu’s judicial reforms, the State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital, “The president has said consistently, both privately and publicly, that fundamental reforms like these require a broad basis of support to be durable and sustained, and we hope there will be genuine compromise. Ultimately, it is up to Israelis to find the best path forward. But as close friends of Israel, we urge them to reach a compromise with the broadest possible base of popular support. We look forward to working with Israel to advance the interests and values that have been at the heart of our relationship for decades.”
Two Israeli cabinet members issued a rebuttal to American criticism of settlement construction in the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria in Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
For Ariel Kahana, a senior diplomatic commentator for Israel’s most read Hebrew-language daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, the friction over judicial reform and settlements is “not so much about interfering in politics,” he told Fox News Digital.
“It is like Americans disagreeing with you. It is not like in past when the Americans would get involved in elections.” He cited the Israeli elections of 1996 and 2015. “Every time Netanyahu was involved, democratic administrations tried to help the rival. No one denies it.”
Kahana, whose columns for Israel Hayom are closely read, said about the contentious issues of judicial and settlement that the Biden administration, “is not exactly getting involved in politics as it is more a disagreement about the issues. I think America is wrong twice. Settlements are a good thing for Israel. And if they disagree, they should not say it so loudly and make it such a big deal.”
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks as his image in seen on a large screen behind him at the J Street National Conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Israel has Jewish residents who live in settlements in the West Bank, known in Israel by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians claim the West Bank as their territory and the current Israeli government sees parts of the West Bank as being land for the Jewish state in a final negotiated accord with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The U.S. State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital, “With regards to settlement expansion: The expansion of settlements undermines the geographic viability of a two-state solution, exacerbates tensions, and further harms trust between the two parties. This view is consistent with the views of previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican. Moreover, the only realistic path to a comprehensive and lasting peace that ends this conflict permanently is through direct negotiations between the parties, not unilateral actions.”
A young man sits on a traffic light over a crowd of pro-reform protestors. Over 200,000 people demonstrated in support of the Israeli government and it’s controversial legal overhaul in front of the Knesset, Jerusalem, April 27, 2023. (Photo by Matan Golan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Jason Greenblatt, one of the masterminds of the Abraham Accords said, “On the issue of settlements, or what should really be called towns, cities and neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria, the administration fell into the same trap as the past, erroneously blaming settlements as a driving reason for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and outrageously putting the issue of settlements on the same level as Palestinian terrorism in terms of roadblocks to peace.”
“This approach is a big mistake and drives peace further away. Continuing the pretense that a fully contiguous Palestinian state will be created and that it is realistic for Israel to withdraw significant portions of its population from its historical, biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria is part of the reason peace is so difficult to achieve. It’s time to publicly acknowledge reality and perhaps then we can begin the hard work necessary to see if peace is achievable,” said Greenblatt.
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Benjamin Weinthal reports on Israel, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Europe for Fox News Digital. Benjamin has contributed articles to The Wall Street Journal, The Jerusalem Post, Foreign Policy, Haaretz, Forbes and The New York Post. You can follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.