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Netanyahu: Hug Him Close or Keep Him at Arm's Length?

As we noted yesterday, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has created quite a pickle for himself. He and his far-right allies are very much in favor of a bill that would allow the Israeli parliament (a.k.a. the Knesset) to overrule the Israeli courts. Pretty much everyone else in Israel is opposed. The result has been mass protests that eventually forced the PM to back off the plan, at least for now.

We also noted in that piece that this creates a bit of a headache for Joe Biden. On one hand, Israel is very important to many U.S. voters, and is also pretty important to national security and America's interests in the Middle East, and the President can't afford for the relationship to become too chilly. On the other hand, Biden doesn't want to seem to tolerate anti-democratic action, particularly given the potential consequences for the Palestinian people. Also, he doesn't much care for Netanyahu personally (and the feeling is mutual).

Yesterday, Biden made something of a statement on the situation. He expressed his opposition to the PM's plans: "Like many strong supporters of Israel I'm very concerned. I'm concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road." The President also said that Netanyahu would not be getting an invitation to the White House anytime in the near future. This is what we might call a diplomatic dog whistle. Most voters aren't going to interpret it as a giant poke in the PM's eye, but Netanyahu certainly is.

And then there is Ron DeSantis, who has made perfectly clear that he's OK with authoritarian-type rulers, and whose only real concern is the presidential hopes of Ron DeSantis. Yesterday, the Governor announced that he will head to Israel to give a speech. Undoubtedly, he will be there because of Florida's vital interests in that country. And en route, DeSantis will also visit Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Utah in order to safeguard the Sunshine State's vital interests in those states that just so happen to be critical for Republican primary candidates.

While DeSantis is in Israel, he will surely find time for a photo-op or twenty with Netanyahu. As the Governor explained yesterday, "At a time of unnecessarily strained relations between Jerusalem and Washington, Florida serves as a bridge between the American and Israeli people." That's dangerously close to an admission that DeSantis is violating the Logan Act (not that anyone ever gets busted for that). Donald Trump ran this same playbook in 2016, making nice with Netanyahu while Obama held the PM at arm's length. So, once again, the Governor makes clear that he doesn't have an original idea in his head.

We shall see what the response is to DeSantis' plans, given how very unpopular Netanyahu's courts initiative is. The Governor really stepped in it with his politically unwise remarks on Ukraine, and had to backtrack. He could be setting himself up for a repeat. (Z)

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