The visit of newly installed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel to the United States could not be more timely. On Aug. 27, he met at the White House with President Joe Biden. The photo op handshake between the two is especially important right now.
The security of Israel along with regional stability are sustained United States foreign policy priorities. The interests of our two nations have not always coincided, yet the partnership endures.
Prime Minister Bennett’s statement in the Oval Office is of self-evident importance, and is worth quoting at length:
“I bring with me a new spirit, a spirit of good will, a spirit of hope, a spirit of decency and honesty, a spirit of unity and bipartisanship, of folks who … harbor very different political opinions, even opposing, yet we all share the deep passion to work together to build a better future for Israel.” Biden reciprocated the warm words.
For 12 years, Bennett’s predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu was in office. The intense nationalism of that leader led to aggressive annexation of territory, confrontational policies, and difficult relations with the U.S. and other allies. Netanyahu currently is on trial for corruption, which appears to mark the end of his long, turbulent political career.
Netanyahu’s relationship with President Barack Obama was unpleasant. President Donald Trump purchased better relations through considerable accommodation of Israel.
This included moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with no concessions in return. Trump does deserve credit for securing diplomatic recognition of Israel by Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.
Bennett has seized the opportunity to emphasize a fresh start and positive opportunity represented by his government, a relatively broad coalition. The government includes the United Arab List.
Welcoming the Arab political party into government is an Israeli first. This is encouraging in the volatile, divided Middle East, which witnessed brutal combat between Hamas and Israel earlier this year.
Bennett’s visit also occurred during the continuing disastrous debacle of the costly, rushed American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Indirectly, U.S. cooperation with ally Israel may increase as a result, especially given Bennett’s forthcoming style and positive, pragmatic approach so far.
Despite Afghanistan, long-term the U.S. has provided significant strategic leadership in the Middle East and Persian Gulf region. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower rightly opposed and forced termination of a misguided effort by Britain, France and Israel to retake the nationalized Suez Canal from Egypt by military force.
In 1973, defense and diplomatic efforts of the Nixon administration were crucial to Israel’s ultimate survival against a combined attack by Arab states. Five years later, President Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Egypt and Israel.
During 1990-1991, President George H.W. Bush led an international military coalition that drove invader Iraq from Kuwait. Secretary of State James Baker demonstrated extraordinary energy and ability in successful diplomacy that followed.
The U.S. refrained from destroying the Iraq government, did confirm America’s regional leadership, and established a partially independent Palestine authority.
Today, Iran and Russia steadily expand influence in the Middle East. The first is a militant adversary. The second was our principal enemy during the Cold War.
George H.W. Bush and James Baker decisively demonstrated American leadership. That legacy remains, awaiting leaders equal to the demanding work.
Israel’s government has a promising opportunity today to work with the U.S. to further regional stability.
Learn More: G.H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft “A World Transformed”