With Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud Party coasting to a stunning victory in Tuesday’s elections, the White House is bracing itself for the continuation of tensions that have reached an all-time high in recent weeks, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Relations between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu have been strained for years, and most recently took a turn for the worse when Netanyahu accepted an invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress.
But Netanyahu’s recent attempts to torpedo nuclear negotiations with Iran compounded tensions, while his policy reversal on the two-state solution have all but ended any progress toward peace efforts in the Middle East that Obama might have been hoping to make in the final two years of his presidency.
Privately, senior officials were hoping for a change of regime, according to the Journal.
The race between Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog was believed to be close according to the polls going into the election, but Likud ultimately earned enough seats in parliament to put the party in a position to easily put together a coalition government.
“Against all odds, we achieved a great victory for the Likud,” Netanyahu told supporters at his election night headquarters. “I am proud of the people of Israel, who in the moment of truth knew how to distinguish between what is important and what is peripheral, and to insist on what is important.”
Netanyahu’s return for a historic fourth term would represent a continuation of the strains with Washington, experts say.
“If Netanyahu wins, we’re going to see a bit more of the same but perhaps a bit worse in terms of Israel’s international relations,” Natan Sachs, an Israel expert at the Brookings Institution, told the Journal. “Relations with the United States have grown significantly worse in the past couple of months.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in Switzerland this week for another round of negotiations with Iran, had reiterated on the eve of the election that the U.S. hopes the election in Israel would enable the beginning of new efforts in the Middle East peace process.
“Our hopes [are] that the choice that the people of Israel make will not only meet their needs domestically and their hopes in the country but obviously meet the hopes for peace, which I think everybody shares,” Kerry said, according to the Journal.
Talks led by Kerry last year broke down and some in the Obama administration had privately questioned whether Netanyahu was ever committed to negotiations that would have established an independent Palestinian state, the Journal said.
The White House on Tuesday sought to stress the strength of U.S.-Israeli ties. Press secretary Josh Earnest said that the bonds “will endure far beyond this election.”
But with Netanyahu prevailing, U.S. lawmakers may be reinvigorated to pass bipartisan legislation requiring Senate approval for any final deal with Iran.
Special: Doctors Reversing Diabetes With Magnesium
“He may feel, ‘I’m king again and I’m going to work with Republicans to bury this agreement,'” Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official, told the Journal.
A Herzog win would have changed the dynamic with Washington, Miller said, making U.S.-Israeli differences “much more muted.”