West News Wire: In the midst of strained relations between the two nations and efforts by Washington to mediate a normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, President Joe Biden declared on Tuesday that he will select former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to serve as Israel’s next ambassador.
Lew, a native New Yorker and devoted Orthodox Jew, has advanced inside the Democratic Party. Graduate of Harvard and Georgetown Law School, he oversaw the Treasury Department before serving as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
Lew began his career in DC politics in the late 1970s, serving as House Speaker Tip O’Neil’s top policy advisor. Additionally, he held jobs in the Clinton White House and worked as Hillary Clinton’s deputy.
Lew’s nomination came relatively fast, with former US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides stepping down in July. He would take the helm of the US embassy at a delicate time in Washington’s relations with Israel.
In an interview with CNN in July, Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet the “most extremist” he has seen since he started working with Israeli prime ministers, and said some members of Netanyahu’s government were part of the problem when it comes to the rising violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The administration has made public criticism of Netanyahu’s divisive judiciary reform, which is unpopular with many Democratic Party legislators.
Although Biden and Netanyahu are anticipated to meet this autumn, with the United Nations General Assembly in New York listed as a prospective meeting location, the Israeli leader has not yet secured a trip to the White House.
The Biden administration has also shunned Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, two extreme-right members of Netanyahu’s alliance.
In an effort to widen the 2020 Abraham Accords, the Biden administration is working to reach an agreement for Saudi Arabia to normalise relations with Israel despite the tensions.
Brett McGurk, the White House’s top Middle East advisor, and Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, travelled to Saudi Arabia this week to discuss the deal.
Saudi Arabia is trying to get the support of the Palestinian Authority leadership for a deal. At the same time, in exchange for normalising ties, Riyadh wants security guarantees from the US, help in developing a civilian nuclear programme, and fewer restrictions on US arms sales.
Analysts tell news reporters that Saudi Arabia’s asks are going to be difficult sells in Congress, where many lawmakers, particularly in the Democratic Party, continue to view Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as a pariah over the kingdom’s poor human rights record.
Lew himself could face an uphill battle for the nomination in the Senate, with Republican lawmakers likely to zero in on his time in the Obama administration during the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Because the Democratic Party holds a thin majority in the Senate, Lew is likely to need some bipartisan support. Over the summer, a group of Republican senators’ threatened to hold up Biden nominees over what they called the administration’s “antisemitic boycott of Israel”.