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Netanyahu will look to Trump and Republicans as routes back to power in Israel, experts say

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President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while walking through the colonnade prior to an Oval Office meeting at the White House March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • Netanyahu is set to be ousted as Israel’s prime minister after 12 years in power.

  • Experts say he’ll look to the US and Republicans as a path to his political revival.

  • His impending replacement is far less influential in the US, which could create some space for Biden.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After 12 years in power, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on the verge of being ousted. Though he’s hit a low point in his historic career, experts and former US diplomats say Netanyahu will remain a force to be reckoned with and his political demise could actually push the Israeli leader to become more involved in US politics and elections.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, has an outsized influence in the US – particularly with Republicans and Evangelicals. He garnered an especially close relationship with former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly took controversial steps on US-Israel relations that were in line with Netanyahu’s agenda and helped boost the Israeli leader’s profile.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [Netanyahu] starts intervening in our own elections at a personal level and links himself to Trump more and Trumpism, and plays the Republican card,” Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, told Insider.

“Don’t underestimate that, because he’s not just going to focus on Israeli politics – he thinks he has a card to play in American politics. And I think he does, especially given our polarized political environment,” Telhami added.

Telhami said that people on the far right in the US looking for allies against the Biden administration could see Netanyahu as a top candidate in that regard. With the Democratic party increasingly divided over US-Israel relations, and progressives pushing for an approach that shows more concern for Palestinians, Netanyahu could look to the exploit the situation.

Netanyahu sees American politics as “part of his legitimization,” Telhami said, and “because he’s linked himself so tightly to Republican politics and even to Trump personally – and certainly Trump’s people like Jared Kushner and David Friedman – he’s going to be rooting for Republicans to win.”

Trump Netanyahu White HouseTrump Netanyahu White House
U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu show members of the media the proclamation Trump signed on recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights after their meeting outside the West Wing of the White House on March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC. The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

The Israeli leader has already inserted himself into US affairs in ways that other world leaders wouldn’t dare to. As the Obama administration worked to finalize the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, for example, Netanyahu gave a speech before a joint session of Congress with the aim of torpedoing the agreement. Congressional Republicans invited Netanyahu to give the speech without consulting the White House, and the address was perceived as a major insult to then-President Barack Obama.

No longer being prime minister could potentially free Netanyahu up to be even more interventionist in the US, Telhami said, in the sense that he won’t have to be as mindful of the implications of his actions.

If the deal to form a new government made by a fragile coalition of eight opposition parties is ratified in the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – on Sunday, Netanyahu will be replaced as prime minister by Naftali Bennett, his former chief of staff and the head of the right-wing Yamina party.

Bennett is considered to be even further to the right than Netanyahu.

He supports expanding Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and annexing most of the Palestinian territory – both considered illegal under international law. Bennett is also against a two-state solution, which has been the centerpiece of US policy toward Israel-Palestine for decades (though Trump’s approach to the region undermined that goal).

But if Israeli lawmakers vote to approve the tenuous coalition, much of Bennett’s energy will be spent on trying to keep the alliance together. Meanwhile, Netanyahu would concentrate his efforts on breaking the government apart.

Naftali BennettNaftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett speaks to the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 30, 2021. Yonatan Sindel/Pool via AP

“At least in the short term, [Netanyahu] will be the opposition leader. That’s a position that has status and prominence in the Israeli system … In that role, he’ll travel to DC … and his voice will be heard. He’ll use it not only to express his views, but to try to put pressure on Bennett and into the coalition to try to split it apart,” according to a former US diplomat who spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of this topic.

Though Netanyahu will look to the US as a venue for his political revival, this does not necessarily mean the Biden administration will suddenly become preoccupied with the Middle East. President Joe Biden has not made the region a top foreign policy priority, and that’s unlikely to change. While Netanyahu has become a household name in US politics, Bennett is fairly unknown and doesn’t hold the same sway or influence.

“Assuming Bennett becomes prime minister, he’ll come to DC, he’ll do business with Biden. They will agree on some things, they’ll disagree on others. He’ll visit the Hill – but it won’t pack the same punch. That gives Biden some space,” the former diplomat said.

But as Biden learned via the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, neglecting the Middle East as a US president can have dire consequences.

In the meantime, the former diplomat said: “[Netanyahu] clearly has relationships and friendships or alliances with Republican politicians and Evangelicals. I’m sure there will be those who will continue to give him a platform and lift up his voice. The [Israeli] government will be shaky … There are definitely reasons why it could not survive and then he’ll have a shot to come back as prime minister. I don’t remove him from the story. He’ll still have a voice.”

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