Will A Far-Right Government Be A Threat To US-Israel Alliance?

The results of the recent U.S. and Israeli elections raised significant questions about the future of their relationship. While the former saw the most prominent pro-Israel lobbying group in the country become the real economic source in U.S. politics, the latter’s most radically right-wing elements are set to take on powerful roles in the next government.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will return to lead the incoming government comprising the Religious Zionists. With personalities such as Bezalel Smotrich – leader of Religious Zionism – and Itamar Ben Gvir – head of Otzma Yehudit at the power, the new government will likely alienate liberal American Jews.

In the meanwhile, the U.S. Senate saw the triumph of Democrats, leaving Republicans a slight majority. Not only does Netanyahu have a close relationship with the Republican party, but Smotrich and Ben Gvir present a problem for Democrats. Democratic Senator of New Jersey Bob Menendez, one of the most steadfast of Israel’s supporters in the Senate, before the elections warned Netanyahu that, if he won, entering a coalition with Otzma Yehudit would have “negative consequences” for Israel’s relationship with the United States.

The new Israeli government will also have to deal with an increasingly negative image of Israel and its role in U.S. domestic politics. Last year, the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC decided to get into the field of campaign financing without being a political action committee – a body that is legally allowed to raise and spend money directly on partisan electoral campaigns – attracting numerous critics by Democratic politicians for targeting some of their candidates.

But the most damaging of all to AIPAC’s reputation was its decision to back the Republicans who denied the validity of Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. In response, AIPAC claimed that it is solely focused on Washington’s relationship with Tel Aviv, striking a hollow note with many American Jews.

Further, a new source of tension between the two countries arose when the United States opened an official investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist shot dead by Israeli forces in the Palestinian city of Jenin in May. Chris Van Hollen, Democratic Senator of Maryland, took the lead on a letter from 24 senators calling for full U.S. involvement in an investigation, with which Israel has refused to cooperate, creating tension even before Netanyahu’s new government takes over. Indeed, once the coalition is fully assembled, the tensions are likely to get worse.

Moreover, the timing of the FBI’s decision to investigate Shireen Abu Akleh’s death may also be seen as a partial response to Tel Aviv’s shift toward a far-right government. Notwithstanding Washington denies it had anything to do with the Justice Department’s decision to open the investigation, reports say that the decision to launch the inquiry was made just before the Israeli election.

In order to mitigate his criminal indictment, Netanyahu will certainly attempt to diminish the power of the Supreme Court, seriously harming Israel’s claim to being the “only democracy in the Middle East”. And it is likely that the government is going to accommodate Smotrich’s demand that Israeli settlements in the West Bank be placed under the jurisdiction of the government, de facto annexing the settlements there.

It’s left to be seen how Washington will respond to such consequential Israeli steps, but the Biden administration’s record to date suggests they may make some mild diplomatic threats but will ultimately acquiesce by taking no concrete action.


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