Biden 'looks forward' to working with Netanyahu after Israel ratifies far-right government

Palestinians expressed fear after Israel swore in the most right-wing government in its history

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 09, 2016, US Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while giving joint statements at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem.   President Joe Biden will talk "soon" with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but has no "specific" plan to do so yet, the White House said on February 11, 2021, underlining an apparent distancing in the key relationship.

 / AFP / POOL / DEBBIE HILL
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US President Joe Biden on Thursday celebrated Israel's ratification of its new government under returning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel ushered in its most right-wing government on Thursday amid international criticism over its hardline religious and ultranationalist stance.

Mr Biden noted that he looks forward to working with his far-right Israeli counterpart, who “has been my friend for decades”.

“The United States is working to promote a region that’s increasingly integrated, prosperous and secure, with benefits for all of its people,” Mr Biden added, emphasising Mr Netanyahu's partnership on Iran.

The White House has previously dodged questions over Mr Netanyahu's right-wing politics, despite Mr Biden's leadership in the US centre-left Democratic Party and his criticism of far-right movements at home.

Israel's new government includes ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, an ultranationalist religious faction once on the fringes of Israeli politics, and Mr Netanyahu's Likud.

This week, the incoming government vowed to legalise dozens of settlements and annex the West Bank as part of its coalition deal.

The agreements also included language endorsing discrimination against LGBTQ people on religious grounds and stipends for ultra-Orthodox men pursuing education over work.

Palestinians have already voiced fear about what's ahead.

“Every year, Israel goes to the right, but this is extreme,” Suha Salman-Mousa, executive director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Centre, told The National.

"We will continue to support policies that advance Israel’s security and regional integration, support a two-state solution, and lead to equal measures of security, prosperity and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians," a US State Department representative told The National.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, also a strong Washington ally, warned of “red lines” over Jerusalem in the run-up to the new government.

In an interview with CNN this week, King Abdullah said that there is “concern” in his country about those in Israel trying to push for changes to his custodianship of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem.

“If people want to get into a conflict with us, we’re quite prepared,” he said.

“I always like to believe that, let’s look at the glass half full, but we have certain red lines … And if people want to push those red lines, then we will deal with that.”

US President Joe Biden considers Jordan's King Abdullah a reliable ally in the Middle East. AP

Jewish-American groups are among those sounding the alarm about Israel's extreme new government.

“The new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is rewarding some of the most extreme figures in Israeli politics with key roles, and is preparing to enact highly destructive policies,” J Street, a self-proclaimed “pro Israel, pro peace” organisation representing Jewish Americans, said in a Thursday statement.

“Now is the time for the US government, and friends and allies of Israel, to speak out — and prepare to take action to keep this radical coalition in check.”

Mr Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for corruption, has attempted to play down the extreme ideas of some members of his government, including Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who leads the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party.

Mr Biden emphasised in his statement that “the United States will continue to support the two-state solution” and “oppose policies that endanger its viability”.

Washington has historically maintained a strong pro-Israel track record.

More than half of all foreign military aid that Mr Biden requested for the fiscal year of 2022 was earmarked for Israel, the Council on Foreign Relations said.

Under a 2016 agreement, Washington committed to providing about $4 billion to Israel each year, including $500 million for missile defence.

Following the Israel-Hamas conflict last year, the US provided an extra $1 billion in missile defence funding.

The Biden administration also moved to expand engagement with Palestinians this year.

Amid deadly violence in the West Bank, veteran US diplomat Hady Amr last month became Washington's first ever special envoy for Palestinian affairs.

Updated: December 30, 2022, 3:50 PM
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