So far, there is no indication that the Biden administration intends to make a substantive change in its relationship with the government of Israel, beyond more frequent public calls for de-escalation in the West Bank and gentle reminders about the importance of democratic institutions.
Even if the United States were to opt for a change in policy, it is unclear whether it could force Israel to change course.
A former senior Israeli government official said the emergence of a major threat to the country’s democracy was a «big dilemma» for his closest ally. But the official said any US effort to condition elements of the relationship would likely be unsuccessful because Netanyahu, under the delicate coalition he formed with far-right parties to secure a return to power, is now beholden to them.
«It’s pretty pointless right now,» said the former official, speaking on condition of anonymity to criticize the current prime minister. “His own members of his coalition are escalating the situation. He is not managing to control the members of the coalition”.
Any move by the US to reduce or tap support for Israel would no doubt draw fierce pushback from nearly all Republicans and many Democrats, not to mention the Orthodox and Evangelical Jewish groups in the US that have been most supportive of the US approach. Netanyahu.
The United States could try to impose conditions on the billions of dollars in annual aid to Israel, most of it military. Yet tying aid to Israel has generally been seen as a third rail in US foreign policy, and even many lawmakers who now speak out against Israel’s turn to the right oppose such a step.
US support for resolutions calling Israel on the world stage, or at least refusal to block them, could be one option to signal a change in policy, as Kurtzer suggested.
For Israel’s government, perhaps the most alarming change so far in response to proposed judicial reforms has been an economic one, which could jeopardize its status as a Middle Eastern economic powerhouse that exceeds its weight.
Last week, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an outspoken supporter of Israel, said some businessmen were already moving their money out of the country or reconsidering whether to invest.
“As the owner of a global company, I don’t blame them,” Bloomberg wrote in a New York Times op-ed under the headline «Israel is courting disaster.»
Those worries have already sent the shekel plunging to its lowest level in years. US financial services firm JPMorgan, in an internal investigative memo first reported by Israeli media and obtained by NBC News, warned that increased risk from the court plan could negatively affect Israel’s credit rating.
Another potentially explosive point looms over opposition to the court plan from elite members of the Israel military, including more than three dozen reserve fighter pilots who announced they would boycott a planned training, expressing concern about serving a «regime dictatorial».
Some reservists have expressed concern that if Israel undermines its democratic institutions, the troops could be vulnerable to war crimes or other charges in global forums such as the International Criminal Court. The fact that Israel has an independent judicial system to properly handle such accusations has been a key Israeli defense in the past.
Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel in the Obama administration and now a distinguished member of the Atlantic Council, said there could be further challenges for US security cooperation if the situation escalates into a constitutional crisis in full rule, with the parliament and the Supreme Court of Israel. claiming to have invalidated the other.
“If that happens, the uniformed will have to decide which order to follow. They may not all decide in the same way,” Shapiro said. «In that scenario, US officials may not know who to coordinate with.»
Any dramatic US change remains unlikely under Biden, the former top Israeli official said, noting the 80-year-old president’s close friendship with Israel forged over decades as a US senator and later vice president. But younger Democratic lawmakers have been much quicker to say that US cooperation with Israel is not guaranteed.
“Few of these kinds of friends of Israel already exist,” the former official said. «The biggest cause for concern should be the next generation of leaders.»