After decade of Bibi, how will Bennett approach first US visit?

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, just two months on the job, will meet with United States President Joe Biden in a visit in which both are expected to attempt to reset relations between Israeli leadership and Biden’s Democratic Party.

Bennett’s first trip abroad as leader of a diverse – and precarious – coalition government also represents, on Thursday, the first time in 12 years that the US will host an Israeli prime minister who is not Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party whose own belief in his unique grasp of the US public and politics, analysts say, saw headline-grabbing stunts and an erosion of once hearty relations between Israeli leaders and the Democratic Party.

“I think Bennett’s approach is going be more low key than Netanyahu’s. He wants to work behind the scenes quietly to express Israeli positions, not by grandstanding before Congress, or on CNN or Fox News,” Dov Waxman, a professor of political science and the director of the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, told Al Jazeera.

“The emphasis now is really on showing that this is turning a new page in US Israeli relationship in the post-Netanyahu period and in some ways resetting relations – particularly with the Democrats,” he said.

Still, Bennett, a staunch supporter of Jewish settlements and of the annexation of most of the West Bank and an opponent of the two-state solution to the conflict, and who sits farther right than the right-wing, pro-settlement Netanyahu, remains an uncomfortable bearer of a relationship reset with a changing Democratic Party.

During the last decade, progressives within the party – and wider US public – have become increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and sceptical of Washington’s once sacrosanct unconditional aid for Israel.

Nevertheless, members of the Democratic leadership remain firm supporters of unyielding US support for Israel, and “want to avoid the impression that Democrats are fighting against Israel”, Waxman said.

“There’s a diligent desire on both sides to emphasise or to project that this is a very strong relationship, a strong alliance between the United States and Israel and one that has bipartisan support in the US,” he added.

Unique relationship with US

Both Netanyahu and Bennett have close ties to the US, but became prime ministers under starkly different circumstances that informed or likely will inform how they leverage those connections.

Bennett, who had formerly been a close ally of Netanyahu’s, is the son of Americans who immigrated to Israel in the late 1960s. He spent his childhood shuttling between Israel, the US, and Canada and co-founded, and then sold, a US tech company.

His right-wing Yamina party came to power in June in an unwieldy, political-spectrum spanning eight-party coalition that will see Yair Lapid, the more centrist head of the Yesh Atid party, become prime minister in two years.

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