Israel’s rightwing UN ambassador has urged US President Joe Biden to call Benjamin Netanyahu, underscoring the prime minister’s fall from grace as the White House changed hands.
Netanyahu ally Danny Danon, who has championed the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, listed on Twitter major world powers that had been contacted by Biden since his inauguration on Jan 20, then tweeted out the official phone number for Israel’s PM. “Might it now be time to call the leader of Israel, the US’s closest ally?” he wrote. The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Netanyahu spent four years in the diplomatic limelight, enjoying a strong relationship with Donald Trump, who delivered huge gains for the Israeli right. The prime minister had spent the previous eight years clashing with former US president Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, the expansion of settlements and abortive attempts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians. The historically strong bipartisan support for the alliance was tested during the Obama era when Netanyahu embraced the Republican Party.
Danon’s tweet channelled a 1990 insult issued by then US secretary of state James Baker, who gave out the White House telephone number under the George H W Bush administration during a congressional testimony, telling the Israelis: “When you’re serious about peace, call us.”
In response to Danon’s tweet, David Aaron Miller, a former Arab-Israeli negotiator, tweeted: “A call will come. But a clear message is being sent.”
But a former Obama official said the Biden team had made its first real blunder by failing to call Netanyahu in a timely manner. The length of time taken to call the Israeli leader had concerned several top Democratic donors, the former official said.
“There’s no doubt that it was appropriate for Israel to go back to its normal place in the diplomatic quarter compared to where it was with Trump, but there’s a line you cross where you make it look [like] you’re doing petty personal grievances,” said the former Obama official, adding the failure to reach out to Netanyahu did not serve Biden.
As vice-president to Obama, Biden publicly defined himself as a Zionist and in 2014 asked Israel’s ambassador to pass on a message to Netanyahu, saying: “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you say but I love you.”
Israeli diplomats have fretted that the return of Obama-era advisers to the White House has already chilled the Israeli prime minister’s prospects of a good relationship with the new administration. During the heat of the Obama-era Iran negotiations, then secretary of state John Kerry apologised to Netanyahu after senior US officials were quoted calling Netanyahu a “coward” and “chickenshit”. Kerry is now the special presidential envoy for climate.
“There is a lot [of] distance to make up for past slights, imagined or not,” said a recently retired Israeli diplomat. “Right now, neither needs the other immediately. But soon, that will change.”
The snub comes as Netanyahu girds up for a fight against Biden’s stated plans to reestablish the Iran nuclear deal, torn up by Trump on advice from Netanyahu in May 2018. He also faces a tough re-election campaign in March without the pomp and ceremony of regular visits from US officials to highlight his ties with Washington.
Trump spoke to Netanyahu within three days of taking office, and the two leaders stayed in frequent contact. Trump delivered a series of pro-Israel decisions from the White House, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and unveiling a now-defunct peace plan that granted 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank to Israel.
Obama called then-prime minister Ehud Olmert on the first day of his first term. “Obama hated Bibi, and he called him within days [of the start of his second term]. I mean, at the end of the day, [Israel is] still a close ally,” said the former Obama official.