Benjamin Netanyahu’s win in Israel’s latest election has drawn a muted response from the U.S. as policymakers wrestle with the implications for foreign policy in the Middle East.
Sitting Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday conceded the election to Netanyahu after it became clear the former prime minister’s coalition would allow him to regain his seat as leader of the country.
But Netanyahu’s win occurs while President Joe Biden sits in the White House, presenting a somewhat awkward matchup of ideals and policy aims from the U.S. and Israel.
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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was the first U.S. politician to congratulate Netanyahu on his victory, writing in a tweet that Israel had a “robust” turnout and the people made the “clear choice” to re-elect Netanyahu.
And Cruz told Fox News Digital that Congress can and should act to ensure that Israel and the U.S. remain in-step on key issues, such as maritime borders and territorial integrity.
“The Israeli people have made a clear choice for Benjamin Netanyahu to once again lead their country and form a government,” Cruz said. “Unfortunately, the Biden administration has spent the last two years pressuring and undermining our Israeli allies — including most recently to cede maritime territory to Hezbollah.”
“There’s no doubt they will now try increase that pressure,” Cruz continued. “Congress can and will provide aggressive oversight to ensure that doesn’t happen and to preserve the bonds of the US-Israel relationship.”
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The statement was a stark contrast to those put out by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides and the White House, which echoed the same statement that they were “pleased to see such strong voter turnout for the Knesset election” but that it was “too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next government coalition until all the votes are counted.”
Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban posted a picture of himself with Netanyahu’s new book, “Bibi: My Story,” and wrote, “What a great victory for Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel! Hard times require strong leaders. Welcome back!”
Israel and Lebanon only last month agreed to a new deal on their shared maritime border that would see the nations share the rights to undersea natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
Lapid has called the deal a “historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy and ensure the stability of our northern border,” but Netanyahu has promised to “neutralize” the deal if his party regained control in November.
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State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday said the U.S. will stand by the deal, which it worked for several years to help broker, and he urged all Israeli government officials to “continue to share the values of open democratic society.”
“Because it was in the interests of both countries, it was in the profound interest of the United States,” Price said of the deal. “We seek to see a more stable, a more integrated region, and this maritime border – the agreement regarding it – helps to advance that.”
The possible more far-right composition of the Israeli government – which would see Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir attain a prominent role – has already prompted concern among more left-leaning administrations.
Two officials told Axios that the Biden administration is “unlikely” to engage with Ben-Gvir, whom they labeled a “Jewish supremacist.” Ben-Gvir has said he wants to be minister of internal security, giving him charge over the police and policies around holy sites in Jerusalem.
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“Because of the likely makeup of the next Netanyahu government, some stark challenges for American national security will present themselves quickly,” Joel Rubin, a former deputy assistant secretary of state under former President Barack Obama, told Fox News Digital.
Rubin said that Netanyahu’s work on the Abraham Accords, which saw Israel create four peace deals with individual nations in the Middle East, would face “immediate stress” with a “more right-leaning” approach to “the Palestinian issue.”
“These countries, especially the UAE (United Arab Emirates), have already voiced concerns about an Israel that is more right-leaning on the Palestinian issue, as well as concerns about members of his potential cabinet having in the past used hostile language about Arabs,” Rubin explained. “The Biden administration will be challenged to navigate this space, which will require close coordination with Netanyahu himself, personally, as he attempts to manage a challenging governing coalition for Israeli-Arab relations.”
“A failure to protect these budding relationships will raise the risk of conflict in the region, never a good outcome for anyone’s security, including the United States,” he added.
Netanyahu in a recent interview with Fox News Digital said that he believed that Arab nations “lost their interest” in the Palestinian question “a long time ago,” which is what “facilitated the Abraham Accords.”