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Ex-US Ambassador to Israel: Biden Administration Unlikely to Work With Ben-Gvir and Smotrich

avatar by Andrew Bernard

Former U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro (center) visiting a Gaza tunnel penetrating Israel in Ein Hashlosha on October 17, 2013. Photo: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv/Wikimedia Commons.

Speaking to The Algemeiner, former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said that he thinks it’s unlikely that the Biden Administration will directly engage with Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich of Israel’s Religious Zionism party should they gain cabinet seats in a Benjamin Netanyahu-led government.

“I highly doubt that the administration will work with Ben-Gvir, certainly, and likely Smotrich as well. They are advocates of racist and bigoted policies, they engage in anti-Arab incitement,” Shapiro said. “And that’s inconsistent with President Biden’s strong defense of global democratic values which have always been shared Israeli values as well.”

Nonetheless, Shapiro believes that the strong relationship between the US and Israeli governments will not be jeopardized.

“President Biden and Netanyahu know each other very well and they’ll certainly be able to work together, and the United States should always work with the Israeli government on mutual interests. And Biden’s commitment to Israeli security and his respect for its democracy cannot be called into question,” he said.

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On Thursday, current US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said that he had called Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory. “I look forward to working together to maintain the unbreakable bond,” Nides wrote.

Shapiro served as US Ambassador to Israel under President Obama from 2011 to 2017. His tenure during Netanyahu’s last premiership coincided with substantial disagreements between Netanyahu and the Obama administration over US policy, notably the 2015 Iran nuclear deal–formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Netanyahu, who continues to object to the Biden administration’s efforts to return to the JCPOA, has also said he opposes the Israel-Lebanon maritime agreement that was brokered by the Biden administration last month.

Shapiro, however, doesn’t think Netanyahu will jettison the deal.

I would expect the Israel-Lebanon maritime deal to hold up. It has been agreed to by the governments of both countries in letters to the United States. It has broad international support,” he said. “It ensures Israel’s security requirements, provides it with its share of revenue from a shared gas field, helps Lebanon get gas flowing in the midst of its economic and energy crisis, and limits the potential for conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean. So I think the logic of the deal holds up.”

With nearly 98% of the vote counted on Thursday, the right-wing Netanyahu-led bloc is projected to have 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. As the leaders of the third largest party in the Knesset with 14 seats, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir have said they intend to be Defense Minister and Minister of Public Security, respectively. 

Asked how the US could continue security coordination without engaging with the ministers responsible for those portfolios, Shapiro said that the US and Israel would be able to find workarounds. “If the United States will not work with Smotrich and Ben Gvir, and if they are ministers whose portfolios involve close coordination with the US, that coordination will have to be conducted via others,” he said. “Obviously, a coalition that does not include them would help avoid these disruptions, which is something Netanyahu should probably take into account.”

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