The following matters are of particular significance to U.S.-Israel relations.
Domestic issues. Will Netanyahu remain prime minister? On March 2, 2020, Israel held its third election in the past year—a development unprecedented in the country’s history. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most votes, despite criminal indictments against Netanyahu for corruption. However, the bloc of parties that are his traditional coalition allies fell three votes short of a Knesset majority.
Netanyahu’s main political rival Benny Gantz, of the Kahol Lavan party, may have enough support from parties opposing Netanyahu to have the first chance to form a government. This support could lead to a bill preventing Netanyahu from forming a government—due to the indictments he faces—though the legislation might not take effect until another election takes place. Ending Israel’s political stalemate could depend on whether Avigdor Lieberman of the right-of-center, pro-secular Yisrael Beitenu party is willing to join a Gantz-led government that receives outside support from the Arab-led Joint List.
If Netanyahu forms the next government, he may pursue initiatives that could reduce the independence of Israel’s judiciary and lead to West Bank annexation. It is unclear how a Likud-Kahol Lavan unity government or a government without Netanyahu might approach these issues. It is also unclear whether, under Israeli law, Netanyahu could annex West Bank territory while acting in a caretaker capacity.
Israeli-Palestinian issues and the Trump peace plan. President Trump has expressed interest in helping resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His policies, however, have largely sided with Israeli positions, thus alienating Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. On January 28, 2020, the President released a long-promised peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians.
The plan appears to favor Israeli positions on core issues of dispute such as borders and settlements, the status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, security, and Palestinian refugees. The Palestinians would face significant domestic difficulties in taking the steps that the plan proposes for them to qualify for statehood. Prospects for negotiations based on the U.S. plan appear relatively dim given strong Palestinian opposition and Netanyahu’s announced intention to annex parts of the West Bank. U.S. officials have said that any U.S. approval for Israeli annexation of West Bank areas would come after a U.S.-Israel committee can pinpoint areas earmarked for eventual Israeli sovereignty. West Bank annexation could provoke international opposition and affect regional stability, including in neighboring Jordan. Arab states could influence developments on Israeli-Palestinian issues, although their positions have varied by country and over time.
Israeli clashes with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip periodically escalate, but Israel and the Sunni Islamist group Hamas (a U.S.-designated terrorist organization) have continued indirect talks toward a long-term ceasefire. Israel’s ability to address threats. Israel relies on a number of strengths—including regional military superiority—to manage potential threats to its security, including evolving asymmetric threats. A 10-year bilateral military aid memorandum of understanding (MOU)—signed in 2016—commits the United States to provide Israel $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing annually from FY2019 to FY2028, along with additional amounts from Defense Department accounts for missile defense. All of these amounts remain subject to
Iran and other regional issues. Israeli officials seek to counter Iranian regional influence and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Netanyahu strongly supported President Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 international agreement that constrained Iran’s nuclear activities. Facing intensified U.S. sanctions, Iran has reduced its compliance with the 2015 agreement. U.S.-Iran tensions have led to greater regional uncertainty, with implications for Israel. Israel has reportedly conducted a number of military operations
in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon against Iran and its allies due to concerns about Iran’s efforts to establish a permanent
presence in these areas and to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of Lebanese Hezbollah’s missile arsenal.