Photo: Reuters, Flash90

Israeli leaders congratulate Biden

Jerusalem is welcoming the election of U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.

Speaking at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “I would like to start with congratulations for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

“I have a long and warm personal connection with Joe Biden for nearly 40 years, and I know him as a great friend of the State of Israel,” said Netanyahu, voicing his confidence that, “will continue to work with both of them in order to further strengthen the special alliance between Israel and the U.S.”

The Israeli Premier went on to say, “For myself and for all citizens of the State of Israel, I again thank President Trump for the great friendship he showed the State of Israel and me personally. I congratulate him on recognizing Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, for his stand on Iran, for the historic peace accords and for bringing the alliance between Israel and the US to unprecedented heights. Thank you, President Trump.”

Alternate Premier and Defense Minister Benny Gantz also offered congratulations to the Biden-Harris team, saying that he was “certain that the long-standing special relations between our countries will continue forward and expand further under their leadership. The ties between Israel and the U.S. run deep, and are grounded in values and interests that we have shared for decades.”

In an earlier message that was among the first from leaders worldwide, Gantz tweeted, “As the election results become final, I extend my heartfelt congratulations to @JoeBiden, a long-time supporter and friend of Israel, and to his running mate, @KamalaHarris, who has made history as the first woman elected VP. I look forward to continuing to deepen the steadfast bond and strong defense ties between our peoples, as allies in the effort to strengthen democracy, stability, and peace worldwide.”

Gantz also thanked President Trump “for the positive strides he has led in the Middle East, both with regard to Iran and in advancing the Abraham Accords, which have left their mark and will continue to positively impact our region well into the future.” Earlier, he referred to the outgoing U.S. leader as “a valuable partner of the State of Israel, committed to its security and invested in its future.”

“The Middle East has taken major steps forward thanks to the president’s bold leadership over these four years, and for that we are immensely grateful,” said the Israeli Defense Minister.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who is a member of Gantz’ centrist Blue and White party that forms Israel’s coalition government with Netanyahu’s Likud, tweeted: “Congratulations to US President-elect Joe Biden! Congratulations to Kamala Harris, the first woman to serve as vice president and congratulations to the American people on the proper democratic process.”.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid faction also offered Biden congratulations on Twitter. “The relationship between our countries is based on deeply held values and critical shared interests which I know will be at the heart of your administration,” Lapid wrote.

Michael Oren, who served as Netanyahu’s ambassador to Washington when Obama was president, said he expected warm bilateral ties with Biden. “They will have disagreements over the peace process. They will have disagreements certainly over the Iran nuclear deal, but I think their friendship is solid.”

Israel’s stock market responded positively to Biden’s win. Both the blue-chip Tel Aviv 35 index and the broader TA-125 were up about 0.3% in morning trade.

Biden describes himself as a Zionist and friend to nine Israeli prime ministers, and he has already vowed not to reverse Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He has also pledged not to condition U.S. assistance for Israel on policy changes – suggesting his previous disapproval of settlement activity may remain declarative.

Electoral results indicate that over 77% percent of American Jews cast their ballots for the Biden-Harris ticket.

U.S. support for Israel has consistently been overwhelmingly bipartisan, and the Israeli public has expressed cautious optimism over the future foreign policy of the Biden Administration. Trump was very popular among Israelis, and many are sad to see him go.

Resident of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, Paul Kopt, said that Israel’s future depends on itself and that “we shouldn’t feel as deeply affected by an election in the United States one way or another.” While he said he did not believe that “Biden will be hostile to Israel,” Kopt said he did not know if the next president would have as much “courage” as his predecessor.

One Biden advisor said that for the time being, the President-Elect may signal to Palestinians that he will place them on a more even footing with Israel.

“I’m happy that Biden was elected, I hope he will continue Trump’s direction,” Petah Tikva resident Tova Ziyonin told Reuters, adding that she thought “it’s good if he will try to make peace between us and the Palestinians, and let’s hope it will succeed.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies expressed doubt the former Vice President would accomplish any diplomatic breakthroughs with the Palestinians, saying, “The Obama administration couldn’t really work up the energy to push the ‘peace process,’” going on to point out, “Joe Biden will be 78 years old on Inauguration Day. He’s been around this block. It’s too exhausting.”

Other Israelis voiced concern over Biden’s declared intention to renegotiate a return to the nuclear deal with Iran, conditioned on compliance to the 2015 accord by the Islamic Republic.

“I think the problem is that Biden will not be as tough or as strong as Donald Trump,” said Aaron Morali, a student from Tel Aviv. “He made it hard for the Iranian people to have a nuclear plan, but I think with Biden they have someone very easy – and I am very, very scared of what will happen.”

Daniel Shapiro, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel under Obama – and according to many analysts is poised for a return to the position, emphasized that “Ensuring Iran does not get nuclear weapons remains a priority.” He also stated other critical commitments include “obviously ensuring Israel’s security and working to at least preserve the Two-State solution.”

He said there would likely be “prioritization” of these behind more pressing U.S. domestic problems.

Even prior to the 20 January inauguration, the Biden administration has set its sights on the mighty tasks of containing the COVID-19 outbreak raging in the U.S., as well repairing severe economic damage wreaked by the pandemic.