Amidst Several Issues, US-Israel Tensions Begin to Form

Image Credit: AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

With tension caused by various issues ranging from tensions with Iran to the recent Jerusalem consulate, The United States and Israel began to argue. 

Closed-door meetings are a phrase that has come up a lot in conversations between the senior US and Israeli officials recently. That’s where the moment where both sides want to resolve the dispute.

So far, the strategy has succeeded in improving the structure of diplomatic relations between the US Democratic Party and the Israeli government, which have been at loggerheads for years.

Former US President Barack Obama and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have repeatedly clashed in public.

However, despite their ideological differences, President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have projected alliance upon unity.

Washington Institute Middle East Policy Observer David Makovsky said Biden and the Israeli government would have a deep relationship.

“Biden, I think that’s very deep with him, given his historic commitment to Israel, and also not wanting a repeat of the Obama years,” Makovsky said.

Likewise, with Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, they do not want to repeat the time when Netanyahu was in charge.

However, a series of problems began to emerge over the last few months and threatened their diplomatic relations.

1. Nuclear Iran

This week, the meeting on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action related to the 2015 Nuclear Agreement was resumed in Vienna.

When the US was under Donald Trump’s administration, they withdrew from the Nuclear pact. Washington has also imposed a number of sanctions on Iran.

Shortly after the US left, Iran walked away from the nuclear deal by increasing uranium enrichment.

Biden is seeking to re-enter the deal, while Bennett and Lapid are skeptical. However, he is willing to wait for the US leader to negotiate better terms with Iran.

Israeli officials believe Iran is only weeks away from building a nuclear weapon.

The country is enriching uranium to 60 percent and close to 90 percent, the numbers needed for nuclear weapons.

This week, Axios reported, Israel warned the United States that Iran was on the verge of 90 percent enrichment.

Makovsky said Iran’s actions could trigger a number of considerations from the United States and Israel that could lead to confrontation between allies.

“I think the US-Israel relationship will be tested in terms of how each side responds to this uncertainty,” Makovsky continued.

 

2. Settlements in the West Bank

Israel announced it would build 3,000 settlements in the West Bank. On October 26, Israel’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, made a phone call to US officials.

There is a US State Department official angry with Israel’s actions. Several settlements are located in the corridor “E1” which separates the settlement of Maaleh Adumim from Jerusalem. For Palestinians, the territory is also important.

An Israeli official said the US had given them a yellow card in the phone call.

In other words, Blinken’s statement is only a warning, not a signal of a new status quo in US-Israeli relations.

 

3. Palestinian Organizations Labeled by Israel as Terrorists

Last November, Gantz designated six leading Palestinian human rights organizations operating in the West Bank as terrorist groups.

The designation would allow the Israeli government to ban the group, although it is not clear whether the government has taken such steps.

The NGO, according to Gantz, is affiliated with the Palestine Liberation forces, which Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has designated as a terrorist group.

The move sparked criticism from the international community, including the US. The Biden administration also said it was caught off guard by the appointment.

Israeli officials said the US had been notified in advance and that intelligence about the groups was shared.

The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has signaled that the Biden administration still lacks confidence in any intelligence Israel has to offer. Instead, he expressed his support for Palestinian NGOs.

“This week, I had the opportunity to meet with civil society leaders in Ramallah,” Thomas-Greenfield said on Twitter on November 20 following a visit to Israel and the West Bank.

“I am inspired by their work to advance democracy, human rights and economic opportunity for the Palestinian people. We support the role of Palestinian NGOs in monitoring human rights abuses wherever they occur.”

Thomas-Greenfield told the UN Security Council the settler attacks created a serious security situation for Palestinians. He also claimed to have discussed with Israeli officials.

4. Consulate of Jerusalem

Biden re-voiced the US consulate in Jerusalem, which was the site of US-Palestinian relations before Trump closed in 2019.

Both Bennett and Lapid, have said that shouldn’t happen. 

The Biden government has said it is committed to fulfilling the promise, which is seen as key to reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks towards a two-state solution.

Lapid tried to convince his partner, Blinken, that the matter could endanger the Bennett government and himself.

The opening of the consulate may not have been possible without Israel’s explicit consent. Giving consent would allow Tel Aviv to recognize Palestinian claims to the city of Jerusalem.

Israeli officials said they were looking for a solution that would save both sides. One of them, perhaps by opening a consulate in an area of ​​the West Bank that is not seen as Jerusalem.

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