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OpinionColumnistsDan Raviv

Can Biden sustain Mideast progress?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely will face

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely will face a challenging relationship with President-elect Joe Biden. Credit: AP/Debbie Hill

Perhaps like me, you have friends who fervently place themselves in either the conservative or the liberal column. I kept hearing their stubborn predictions, in the months before Election Day.

Conservatives were sure there was no way that President Donald Trump could lose, because, among other things, Joe Biden clearly has dementia and the nation could see that Kamala Harris would take over as an extremist, socialist president.

Liberals seemed certain that Trump is so terrible, that the country would resoundingly reject him, and we should expect the landslide they dubbed The Blue Wave.

Instead, we suffered a queasy week featuring half a dozen states with thin margins, with counting going on for days before Biden was declared the winner on Saturday. The election produced a blue ripple, just enough to drown Trump’s hope of governing for a second term. Yet Republicans gained a few seats in the House of Representatives, and they have a strong chance of retaining their majority in the Senate, by winning at least one of the two Georgia seats in the Jan. 5 runoff elections. Overseas, America’s friends and foes did not have preconceived notions as to who would be sworn in on Jan. 20. Some foreign diplomats in Washington still express doubts as they wonder whether court challenges by Trump could be effective. Yet they reported to their capitals that Biden would prevail, and that has led to a string of congratulatory messages from Paris, London, Berlin, and other capitals.

Because foreign leaders did not want to offend or anger Trump, after almost four years of walking on eggshells around him, some were slow to issue official comment. It surely was not wise for America’s best friend in the Middle East, Israel, to be slow, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed unsure of what to say and when to say it. Finally, he posted twin tweets on Sunday: one, congratulating Biden and Kamala Harris, and the other expressing thanks to Trump "for the friendship you have shown the State of Israel," by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, "standing up to Iran," and fortifying the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Netanyahu’s tweet to the new team noted, perhaps more hopefully than truthfully: "Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years." In fact, there is a history of friction between Biden and the conservative Israeli leader, fueled by Netanyahu’s moves such as his speech to Congress in 2015 attacking the Obama-Biden administration for negotiating a nuclear accord with Iran. Israeli officials are now concerned that Biden will rapidly reverse Trump’s decision to quit that nuclear deal. Also, like most Democrats, Biden has been a critic of Israeli settlements built in the West Bank, captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.

Many in the Middle East wonder whether the recent trend of Arab nations establishing friendly relations with Israel will continue without Trump, who relished taking credit for fostering the desert détente. Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan announced diplomatic and trade relations with the Jewish state they long condemned as an aggressive splinter infecting their region.

Saudi Arabia, the biggest prize in Israeli hopes for recognition and cooperation, has declined to board the peace train — declaring that a prerequisite would be progress toward independence and dignity for Palestinians. If the Biden administration unveils a more balanced approach than Trump’s, the Saudis could be persuaded to forge a deal with Israel. The strategic purposes would include a bulwark against Iran, as well as economic and technological teamwork that would greatly benefit both Arabs and Israelis.

Dan Raviv is co-author of "Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance" and "Spies Against Armageddon."

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