Sunday, 28 Feb 2021 - 16 of Adar, 5781
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White House: Netanyahu first Mideast leader to be called by President Biden

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In a rare interview on Channel 12 News on Monday, Netanyahu recognised differences of opinion with President Biden over Iran and Palestinian issues, but said they enjoy a “very strong” working relationship.

Relating to the absence of a call so far Netanyahu said, “He’ll call… we have had very strong, friendly relations for nearly 40 years, dating from the time I came to Washington as an Israeli diplomatic representative and he was a young senator from Delaware.”

 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Biden’s first call with a Middle East leader will be with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

‘’I know there’s been some questions about when the president will speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Let me first confirm for you that his first call with a leader in the region will be with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It will be soon,” she said at the daily White House press briefing.

She added; “I don’t have an exact date for you but it will be soon,” she said. “Stay tuned.”

Psaki also addressed a previous press briefing in which she did not directly answer whether the administration considered Israel an important ally.

“Israel is, of course, an ally,” Psaki said. “Israel is a country where we have an important strategic security relationship, and our team is fully engaged.”

There has been speculation in recent weeks as to why Biden has not called Netanyahu since his inauguration in January, with some suggesting that Biden does not want to help Netanyahu in the 23 March Israeli elections.

Biden’s predecessors, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, both called the Israeli Prime Minister in their first days of taking office.

Biden has spoken with several US allies, including leaders in UK, Canada, France, Japan, Mexico, Germany, South Korea. He has not yet spoken with any leader from the Middle East.

Over the weekend, Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Gilad Erdan explained that Biden was preoccupied with domestic issues, primarily the coronavirus pandemic and helping the economy recover.

Others have speculated that the non-call relates to residual animosity over Netanyahu’s behaviour during the Obama administration, with several key figures returning to senior positions in the current administration.

However, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan have already spoken twice discussing Iran, regional issues and advancing the Abraham Accords.

In addition, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have also spoken twice.  In their most recent call, on Monday, Ashkenazi thanked Blinken for his public support after the International Criminal Court Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision last week to green-light an investigation into Israel and the Palestinians over potential war crimes. The pair discussed “joint efforts to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons and undermine regional stability”. Ashkenazi also thanked Blinken and US President Biden for their “deep commitment to Israeli security and the strategic alliance between our countries”.

For the last two weeks, the IDF and US military have been holding their annual bilateral “Juniper Falcon” exercise. According to the US Embassy, “The exercise is designed to enhance interoperability between both nations’ militaries and ensure US and Israeli forces are ready and prepared to respond to any contingency, particularly those involving ballistic missile defence or crisis response.”

However, in a rare interview on Channel 12 News on Monday, Netanyahu recognised differences of opinion with President Biden over Iran and Palestinian issues, but said they enjoy a “very strong” working relationship.

Relating to the absence of a call so far Netanyahu said, “He’ll call… we have had very strong, friendly relations for nearly 40 years, dating from the time I came to Washington as an Israeli diplomatic representative and he was a young senator from Delaware.”

Who will be the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel ?

“From conversations with Washington insiders, the name of Michael Adler is often mentioned as the leading candidate for ambassador to Israel,” Dan Arbell,  a 25-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service,  was quoted as saying in The Jerusalem Post.

“However, it is too soon to tell. Former ambassador Dan Shapiro, former deputy secretary of state Tom Nides and former Democratic rep. Robert Wexler are also being mentioned as potential ambassadors.”

Last month, Adler, a Miami-based real estate developer who has known Biden for nearly 50 years, told the Forward he would be honored to serve as ambassador in Jerusalem.

“I know I’m a candidate; there’s no question about that,” he said. “I want for Israel and the United States the role of ambassador to Israel to be the person that this administration feels could do the best job in fostering the positive relationship there. Do I think that I could potentially be that person? Absolutely. And does that job interest me? Absolutely.”

 

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