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Netanyahu hits stage five of grieving Trump: Accepting Biden – analysis


It took a week and a half, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the congratulatory phone call to President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday night.

That delay, along with the 12-hour interval between the media calling the election for Biden on November 7 and Netanyahu’s congratulatory tweet on November 8 – plus the fact that Netanyahu repeatedly avoided calling Biden “president-elect” in the ensuing 10 days, including on Tuesday – raised eyebrows among observers of the US-Israel relationship.

Netanyahu’s behavior is in deep contrast with his calling US President Donald Trump the day after his 2016 election victory.

The tweet delay had a technical reason: Netanyahu coordinated with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi that they would wait until Biden gave a victory speech to send a congratulatory message. Biden’s speech ended at about 4 a.m. in Israel; Gantz’s staff sent the tweet immediately, while Netanyahu’s was apparently not required to stay up all night and sent it at 7 a.m.

But the hesitation to call Biden “president-elect” at several opportunities – and the wait of a week and a half to speak to him – show there were more than technical issues at hand.

Netanyahu is clearly concerned about angering the mercurial President Trump, who remains in office for another two months.

If Israel gets on Trump’s bad side, the consequences could be serious. After all, under former president Barack Obama, the US allowed to pass UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning the settlements.

And many in the government are pinning their hopes on last-minute sanctions on Iran and other moves by the Trump administration to box in the Biden administration from going too easy on the tyrants of Tehran.

Beyond that, Netanyahu has had to deal with adversarial presidents – aka Democrats – for 10 out of his 14 non-consecutive years as prime minister. A Republican president was a dream come true for Netanyahu, and, in many ways, Trump even more so. Netanyahu has been friends with Trump for decades, even attending his wedding to Melania, and the two worked together well with not even a hint of the “daylight” the Obama administration sought to put between the US and Israel.

Netanyahu was probably disappointed by Biden’s victory, though he tried to put on a brave face before and after the election by pointing out that they, too, have known each other for decades, and that he has worked fine with Democratic administrations in the past.

Now, Netanyahu seems to have reached the final stage of grieving the loss of the Trump administration: acceptance.

Will this have a lasting impact on his relationship with Biden?

The president-elect has been working hard to be a unifying force for Americans, and has taken a conciliatory tone. Some members of his inner circle shrugged off the 12-hour tweet delay, with one saying that Biden was too busy celebrating to check his Twitter account, and that probably reflects a forgiving attitude at the top.

Biden called Trump’s refusal to concede the election “more embarrassing for the country than debilitating,” and that characterization could easily describe how he would view Netanyahu’s wavering over the past 10 days.

This is a hump that Netanyahu and Biden can get over – easily.

The real challenges will be about policy, specifically Biden’s bid to rejoin the Iran deal and Israel’s continued construction in Judea and Samaria.

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