Israel: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief

Israel: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief
January 27, 2021
The following matters are of particular significance to U.S.-Israel relations.
Jim Zanotti
Domestic issues: March 2021 election. After the collapse of its power-sharing
Specialist in Middle
government in December 2020, Israel is scheduled to hold another election for its
Eastern Affairs
Knesset (parliament) on March 23, 2021. The election will be Israel’s fourth in the past

two years—a frequency without parallel in the country’s history. Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu has managed to maintain power despite an ongoing criminal trial

on corruption charges that is set to resume in February 2021. Netanyahu apparently
hopes to create a coalition government that will grant him legal immunity or to remain indefinitely as caretaker
prime minister (as he did from December 2018 to May 2020) by preventing anyone from forming a coalition
without him and his Likud party.
Palestinians and Arab state normalization. On the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump
Administration policies largely sided with Israeli positions, thus alienating Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) Chairman and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. In the second half of 2020, the
Administration pivoted from its January 2020 Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal to helping Israel reach
agreements—known as the Abraham Accords—on normalizing its relations with the United Arab Emirates
(UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. In connection with its deal with the UAE, Israel agreed in August 2020 to
suspend plans to annex part of the West Bank, though announcements related to settlement activity have
accelerated since then.
Israeli normalization with Arab states could raise questions about the future of cooperation and rivalry among key
actors in the Middle East. Arab-Israeli common cause could intensify, dwindle, or fluctuate in countering Iran and
perhaps even Turkey and Qatar, two countries that provide some support for Sunni Islamist movements. The
January 2021 shift of Israel from the purview of U.S. European Command to U.S. Central Command may
increase Arab-Israeli military interoperability. Other factors affecting regional cooperation and rivalry might
include U.S. arms sales (including a proposed sale of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and MQ-9 drone aircraft to the
UAE), mutual economic benefits, and Arab public opinion. Some of these factors could determine whether Saudi
Arabia drops preconditions related to Palestinian national demands on normalizing its relations with Israel.
Incoming Biden Administration figures signal support for further Arab-Israel normalization, but may be hesitant
to sell advanced arms in connection with it. In hopes of preserving the viability of a negotiated two-state solution
among Israelis and Palestinians, the Administration appears inclined to reengage with Palestinian leaders and
people—including by resuming some types of aid—and has stated its opposition to annexation, settlement
activity, incitement to violence, or other unilateral steps by either side.
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. Netanyahu has made statements
opposing the Biden Administration’s possible reentry into the agreement, and observers have speculated about
possible Israeli actions to influence or disrupt nuclear diplomacy. 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 improve the accuracy of Lebanese Hezbollah’s missile arsenal.
China: Investments in Israel and U.S. concerns. U.S. officials have raised some concerns with Israel over
Chinese investments in Israeli high-tech companies and civilian infrastructure that could increase China’s ability
to gather intelligence and acquire security-related technologies. While Chinese state-owned companies remain
engaged in some specific infrastructure projects, including at seaports in Haifa and Ashdod, in May 2020 Israel
turned down the bid of a Chinese-affiliated company to construct a major desalination plant.
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Contents
Introduction: Major Issues for U.S.-Israel Relations ....................................................................... 1
Domestic Issues: March 2021 Election ........................................................................................... 2
U.S. Security Cooperation ............................................................................................................... 5
Key Foreign Policy Issues ............................................................................................................... 5

The Palestinians and Arab State Normalization ........................................................................ 5
Trump Administration ......................................................................................................... 5
Strategic Assessment ........................................................................................................... 7
Israeli-Palestinian Issues ............................................................................................... 8
Future of Regional Cooperation and Rivalry ................................................................ 8

Prospects Under the Biden Administration and 117th Congress ....................................... 10
Gaza and Its Challenges ..................................................................................................... 11
Iran and the Region .................................................................................................................. 11
Iranian Nuclear Issue and Regional Tensions .................................................................... 11
Hezbollah .......................................................................................................................... 12
Syria and Iraq: Reported Israeli Airstrikes Against Iran-Backed Forces .......................... 13
China: Investments in Israel and U.S. Concerns ..................................................................... 14

Figures
Figure 1. Israel: Map and Basic Facts ............................................................................................. 2
Figure 2. Indictments Against Netanyahu and Steps of the Legal Process ..................................... 4

Appendixes
Appendix. Israeli Political Parties in the Knesset and Their Leaders ............................................ 16

Contacts
Author Information ........................................................................................................................ 19


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Introduction: Major Issues for U.S.-Israel Relations
Israel (see Figure 1) has forged close bilateral cooperation with the United States in many areas;
issues with significant implications for U.S.-Israel relations include the following.
 Israeli domestic political issues, including an election scheduled for March 2021
and an ongoing criminal trial against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
 Israel’s security cooperation with the United States.
 Israeli-Palestinian issues and Israel’s normalization of relations with various
Arab states.
 Concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and regional influence, including with
Lebanon-based Hezbollah, Syria, and Iraq.
 Chinese investment in Israeli companies and infrastructure, and U.S. concerns
about implications for U.S. national security.
For background information and analysis on these and other topics, including aid, arms sales, and
missile defense cooperation, see CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations,
by Jim Zanotti; and CRS Report RL33222, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, by Jeremy M. Sharp.


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Israel: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief

Figure 1. Israel: Map and Basic Facts

Sources: Graphic created by CRS. Map boundaries and information generated by Hannah Fischer using
Department of State Boundaries (2011); Esri (2013); the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency GeoNames
Database (2015); DeLorme (2014). Fact information from CIA, The World Factbook; and Economist Intelligence
Unit. All numbers are forecasts for 2021 unless otherwise specified.
Notes: According to the U.S. executive branch: (1) The West Bank is Israeli occupied with current status
subject to the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement; permanent status to be determined through further
negotiation. (2) The status of the Gaza Strip is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations. (3) The
United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 without taking a position on the specific boundaries
of Israeli sovereignty. (4) Boundary representation is not necessarily authoritative. Additionally, the United States
recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel in 2019; however, U.N. Security Council Resolution 497, adopted
on December 17, 1981, held that the area of the Golan Heights control ed by Israel’s military is occupied
territory belonging to Syria. The current U.S. executive branch map of Israel is available at
https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/israel/map.

Domestic Issues: March 2021 Election
Israel is scheduled to hold another election for its Knesset (parliament) on March 23, 2021, which
will be its fourth in the past two years—a frequency without parallel in the country’s history.
Elections in April and September 2019 did not produce a coalition government, and the power-
sharing government formed after the March 2020 election collapsed in December 2020 when it
failed to agree on an annual budget. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister
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Israel: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief

Benny Gantz (see Appendix), along with other cabinet members, are expected to remain in their
positions until a new government can be formed with the backing of a Knesset majority.
Netanyahu’s Time as Prime Minister: 2009-20211

Although the 2020 power-sharing government nominally collapsed over the budget, the issue of
Netanyahu’s continued leadership had a significant impact as well. Had the government
continued, Gantz was scheduled to become prime minister in November 2021, and the two were
unwilling to reach a compromise on the succession issue. Gantz’s initial willingness to form the
government was based largely on the national emergency connected with the Coronavirus
Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Because this decision fractured his Kahol Lavan party, Gantz’s
political influence now appears to be greatly diminished.
Netanyahu has managed to maintain power despite serious corruption allegations that led to a
criminal indictment in November 2019 and a trial that is set to resume in February 2021 (see
Figure 2). While the past three elections and Israel’s governance challenges over the past two
years have focused significantly on the question of Netanyahu’s continuation in office, the initial
stages of this election campaign appear to be even more heavily influenced by Netanyahu’s
status. As one analyst has written, “the fundamental split in Israeli politics is no longer a right-left
divide over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or security, but a divide between Netanyahu partisans
and Netanyahu opponents that transcends ideological commitments.”2 Some politicians on the
right of the political spectrum—ideologically close to Netanyahu—have adopted critiques of
Netanyahu previously made by many from the left and center that claim he prioritizes his
individual power and survival over Israeli national interests, institutions, and rule of law.

1 Netanyahu served an earlier term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999.
2 Michael Koplow, “Things to Watch in 2021,” Israel Policy Forum, December 23, 2020.
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Figure 2. Indictments Against Netanyahu and Steps of the Legal Process
Indictments
Case 1000: Netanyahu received favors from Hol ywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian bil ionaire James
Packer, in return for taking actions in Milchan’s favor.

The charge: Fraud and breach of trust
Netanyahu’s defense: There is no legal problem in receiving gifts from friends; did not know that his
family members requested gifts.
Case 2000: Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes struck a deal: Favorable coverage for
Netanyahu in return for limiting the circulation of the Sheldon Adelson-owned newspaper Israel Hayom.

The charge: Fraud and breach of trust
Netanyahu’s defense: He had no intention of implementing the deal, and relations between
politicians and the media should not be criminalized.
Case 4000: As communication minister, Netanyahu took steps that benefited Shaul Elovitch who control ed
telecom company Bezeq—in return for favorable coverage in Bezeq’s Wal a News site

The charge: Bribery, fraud and breach of trust
Netanyahu’s defense: There is no evidence that he was aware of making regulations contingent on
favorable coverage.
Selected Steps in the Legal Process, and
the Time Between Them

Sources: For “Indictments,” the content comes from Ha’aretz graphics adapted by CRS. For “Selected Steps in the Legal
Process, and the Time Between Them,” CRS prepared the graphic and made slight content adjustments to underlying
source material from Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. The interval listed between Steps 4-5 is an
estimate.

Netanyahu apparently hopes to create a coalition government that will grant him legal immunity
or, if he lacks the support, to remain indefinitely as caretaker prime minister (as he did from
December 2018 to May 2020) by preventing anyone from forming a coalition without him and
his Likud party. The core of any anti-Netanyahu coalition would likely come from the Tikva
Hadasha party founded by ex-Likud member and former Education and Interior Minister Gideon
Sa’ar,3 alongside other Netanyahu opponents Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid party) and Avigdor
Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu party). Naftali Bennett is another key figure. He and his Yamina party
have a complicated history with Netanyahu and could either join or oppose him. Sa’ar and

3 Josef Federman, “AP Interview: Netanyahu challenger pledges change with Biden,” Associated Press, January 15,
2021.
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Israel: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief

Bennett are generally more outspokenly supportive of West Bank settlements and annexation than
Netanyahu.
Developments on the following issues could impact the campaign, government formation
process, and various policy outcomes:
 Efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations, and associated
socioeconomic issues.
 Foreign policy involving the incoming Biden Administration, Iran, Arab states,
the Palestinians, and other key actors.
U.S. Security Cooperation4
While Israel maintains robust military and homeland security capabilities, it also cooperates
closely with the United States on national security matters. U.S. law requires the executive branch
to take certain actions to preserve Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” or QME, and expedites aid
and arms sales to Israel in various ways. Additionally, 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 and to spend $500 million annually on joint
missile defense programs from FY2019 to FY2028, subject to congressional appropriations.
Israel was the first foreign country to purchase and operate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Congress
also has authorized and encouraged bilateral cooperation in a number of specific security-related
areas, including anti-tunnel defense and countering drone aircraft. In January 2021, one source
reported that Israel has provided the United States with two batteries of its Iron Dome missile
defense system for deployment at U.S. military bases in the region or elsewhere, with additional
batteries planned for U.S. use or possible export via U.S.-Israel co-production.5
Key Foreign Policy Issues
The Palestinians and Arab State Normalization6
Trump Administration
During President Trump’s time in office, his Administration took a number of actions on the
decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict that favored Israeli positions vis-à-vis the Palestinians, as
set forth below.
Selected Trump Administration Actions Impacting Israeli-Palestinian Issues
December 2017
President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting the Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) to cut off high-level
diplomatic relations with the United States.
May 2018
The U.S. embassy opens in Jerusalem.
August 2018
The Administration ends U.S. contributions to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency
for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

4 For more information, see CRS Report RL33222, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, by Jeremy M. Sharp.
5 Yaniv Kubovich, “Israel allows U.S. to deploy Iron Dome missile defense in the Gulf,” haaretz.com, January 24,
2021.
6 For additional background, see CRS In Focus IF11237, Israel and the Palestinians: Chronology of a Two-State
Solution
, by Jim Zanotti.
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September 2018
The Administration reprograms FY2017 economic aid for the West Bank and
Gaza to other locations, and announces the closure of the PLO office in
Washington, DC.
January 2019
As a result of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-253), the
Administration ends all bilateral U.S. aid to the Palestinians.
March 2019
The U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem—previously an independent diplomatic
mission to the Palestinians—is subsumed under the authority of the U.S. embassy
to Israel. President Trump recognizes Israeli sovereignty claims in the Golan
Heights.
November 2019
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo says that the Administration disagrees with a
1978 State Department legal opinion stating that Israeli settlements in the West
Bank are inconsistent with international law.
January 2020
President Trump releases Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal that largely favors
Israeli positions and contemplates possible U.S. recognition of Israeli annexation of
some West Bank areas.
August 2020
Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announce the first of four cases in
which the Trump Administration facilitates some normalization of Israel’s relations
with Arab states (Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco fol ow later in the year). Israel
suspends consideration of West Bank annexation in connection with the UAE
deal.
October 2020
The United States and Israel sign agreements removing restrictions on three
binational foundations from funding projects in areas administered by Israel after
the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The foundations are the Binational Industrial Research
and Development Foundation (BIRD), the Binational Science Foundation (BSF),
and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Foundation (BARD).
November 2020
Secretary Pompeo announces a change in U.S. product labeling regulations,
requiring products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be identified as
coming from Israel.
As mentioned above, in the second half of 2020 the Trump Administration’s diplomatic focus
pivoted from its January 2020 Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal to helping Israel reach
agreements on normalization with some Arab countries, as follows:
United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. In September 2020, Israel signed
the Abraham Accords with the UAE and Bahrain at the White House. Under the
Accords, the UAE and Bahrain have established full diplomatic relations with
Israel, and seek to boost cooperation in a number of other areas, including trade,
investment, and tourism.
Sudan. Sudan signed onto the Abraham Accords in January 2021 after an
October 2020 joint statement with Israel announcing their plans to normalize
relations, and after Sudan’s removal from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism
list.7 The Sudanese transitional leadership has said that normalization remains
contingent on ratification by a yet-to-be-formed legislative council.
Morocco. Morocco agreed to sign onto the Abraham Accords in December 2020
at the same time President Trump announced U.S. recognition of Moroccan
sovereignty claims over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.8 While

7 CRS Insight IN11531, Sudan’s Removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, by Lauren Ploch Blanchard. The
United States also agreed to provide around $1 billion in bridge financing to clear Sudan’s arrears with the World Bank
and allow it to receive future funding. Sami Magdy, “Sudan says it signs pact on normalizing ties with Israel,”
Associated Press, January 6, 2021.
8 CRS Insight IN11555, Morocco-Israel Normalization and U.S. Policy Change on Western Sahara, by Alexis Arieff,
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Morocco’s initial plan—perhaps pending the opening of a U.S. consulate in
Western Sahara9—is to restore the diplomatic liaison offices it maintained with
Israel from 1994 to 2000, the countries’ agreement could lead to full diplomatic
relations along with increased economic and tourism links.
In connection with its deal with the UAE, Israel agreed in August 2020 to suspend plans to annex
part of the West Bank, with one source stating that the UAE received a commitment from U.S.
officials that they would not approve Israeli annexation until at least January 2024.10
Before Israel’s late 2020 dealings with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, Egypt and Jordan
had been the only Arab states with formal diplomatic relations with Israel.11 In 1981, Saudi
Arabia’s then-Crown Prince Fahd bin Abd al Aziz Al Saud proposed a formula—later enshrined
in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API)—under which Israel would make certain concessions,
including on Palestinian statehood, before Arab states would normalize their relations with it.12
After Israel started negotiating directly with the Palestinians in the 1990s, it established limited
diplomatic relations with Morocco, and informal ties with a number of other Arab states,
including the UAE and Bahrain.13 These countries downgraded their ties with Israel after the
onset of the second Palestinian intifada (or uprising) in 2000. However, in the past decade
discreet Israeli links with Arab states on issues including intelligence, security, and trade have
become closer and more public. Israel has worked with these countries to counter common
concerns, such as Iran’s regional influence and military capabilities (see “Iran and the Region”
below) and Sunni Islamist populist movements (including various Muslim Brotherhood branches
and affiliates).14
Strategic Assessment
Assessing Arab-Israeli normalization to date involves considering its implications both for Israeli-
Palestinian issues and the future of regional cooperation and rivalry.

Jim Zanotti, and Brock R. Williams. The signing took place later that month.
9 Mohammed Ayesh, “Arabic press review: Morocco-Israel deal frozen until Biden's Western Sahara stance clear,”
Middle East Eye, January 22, 2021.
10 Jacob Magid, “US assured UAE it won’t back Israel annexation before 2024 at earliest, ToI told,” Times of Israel,
September 13, 2020. For information on the annexation issue, see CRS Report R46433, Israel’s Possible Annexation of
West Bank Areas: Frequently Asked Questions
, by Jim Zanotti.
11 Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, and Jordan and Israel did the same in 1994.
12 The Arab Peace Initiative offers a comprehensive Arab peace with Israel if Israel were to withdraw fully from the
territories it occupied in 1967, agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem, and
provide for the “[a]chievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem in accordance with UN General
Assembly Resolution 194.” The initiative was proposed by Saudi Arabia and adopted by the 22-member League of
Arab States in 2002, and later accepted by the then-56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the 57-
member Organization of Islamic Cooperation) at its 2005 Mecca summit. The text of the initiative is available at
http://www.bitterlemons.org/docs/summit.html.
13 Miriam Berger, “Israel’s relations in the Middle East, explained,” washingtonpost.com, August 15, 2020; Adam
Entous, “Donald Trump’s New World Order,” New Yorker, June 11, 2018; CRS Report 95-1013, Bahrain: Unrest,
Security, and U.S. Policy
, by Kenneth Katzman.
14 Steve Hendrix, “Inside the secret-not-secret courtship between Israel and the United Arab Emirates,”
washingtonpost.com, August 14, 2020; CRS Report 95-1013, Bahrain: Unrest, Security, and U.S. Policy, by Kenneth
Katzman.
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Israeli-Palestinian Issues
Israel’s deals with Arab states could be interpreted as vindicating Prime Minister Netanyahu’s
long-standing claim that he could normalize Israel’s relations with Arab countries before reaching
a peace agreement with the Palestinians. They also signal some change to Arab states’ previous
insistence—in the 2002 API—that Israel address Palestinian negotiating demands as a
precondition for improved ties.15 However, official statements from Saudi Arabian officials
continue to condition Saudi normalization with Israel on the API’s provisions.16 In late 2020,
Saudi Arabia granted Israel flyover rights within its airspace to facilitate direct Israeli airline
travel to the UAE and Bahrain.17
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials have denounced
Arab states’ normalization of relations with Israel as an abandonment of the Palestinian national
cause. They expressed particular concern over the UAE deal, perhaps partly because the UAE has
provided sanctuary and political support for Mohammad Dahlan, a former top PA figure
vehemently opposed by PLO Chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Dahlan may have
aspirations to succeed Abbas.18
PLO/PA officials claimed that the UAE legitimized Israel’s annexation threats by bargaining over
them, and thus acquiesced to a West Bank status quo that some observers label “de facto
annexation.”19 UAE officials countered that by significantly delaying Israeli declarations of
sovereignty over West Bank areas, they preserved prospects for future negotiations toward a
Palestinian state.20 Since announcing the suspension of annexation plans, Prime Minister
Netanyahu has appealed to domestic pro-settler constituencies with a number of announcements
related to settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank.
Questions surround the impact that Arab states with open relations with Israel might have on
Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. Will these states influence Israeli positions regarding the
Palestinians, due to their closer access to Israeli leaders and Israeli interests in maintaining and
improving ties with these countries? Or will these states have less leverage with Israel and
possibly even support efforts to have Palestinians compromise their traditional demands?
Future of Regional Cooperation and Rivalry
Israeli normalization with Arab states could raise questions about the future of cooperation and
rivalry among key actors in the Middle East. Depending on global and regional geopolitical
trends, common cause could intensify, dwindle, or fluctuate between Israel and some Arab states
to counter Iran and perhaps even Turkey and Qatar, two countries that provide some support for
Sunni Islamist movements. In January 2021, President Trump ordered U.S. Central Command
(CENTCOM), which commands U.S. military forces in most countries in the Middle East, to add
Israel to its area of responsibility, partly to encourage military interoperability as a means of

15 Annelle Sheline, “Trump’s Win Is a Loss for the Middle East,” Politico Magazine, August 14, 2020.
16 HRH Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, First Plenary Session, International Institute for Strategic Studies Manama
Dialogue, December 5, 2020.
17 Yoel Guzansky, “Saudi Arabia and Normalization with Israel,” Institute for National Security Studies, Insight No.
1396, October 29, 2020.
18 See, for example, Neri Zilber, “The Talented Mr. Dahlan,” Newlines Magazine, November 11, 2020.
19 Walid Mahmoud and Muhammad Shehada, “Palestinians unanimously reject UAE-Israel deal,” Al Jazeera, August
14, 2020.
20 “UAE minister: We bought lot of time on annexation; Palestinians should negotiate,” Times of Israel, August 14,
2020.
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reinforcing closer ties between Israel and many Arab states.21 Israel had previously been under the
purview of U.S. European Command. While closer cooperation may result between Israel and
some Arab governments, some others that have not normalized relations with Israel might
encounter political challenges in joining CENTCOM deliberations involving Israel.
Other factors influencing regional cooperation and rivalry might include:
Arms sales. Shortly after the UAE’s normalization deal with Israel, the Trump
Administration notified Congress of a proposed sale to the UAE of F-35 Joint
Strike Fighters, armed MQ-9 Reaper drones, and munitions.22 While noting the
U.S. legal requirement to maintain Israel’s QME, Israeli officials stated that they
would not oppose the sale. The United States and UAE reportedly signed a letter
of offer and acceptance for the sale in the final hours of the Trump
Administration.23 Implementing the deal and delivering the items is expected to
take years. The outcome of this transaction and others that might follow to Arab
states in connection with normalization could depend on issues including QME
considerations, human rights concerns (such as those involved in Yemen’s
ongoing conflict), and prospects for regional arms races involving suppliers such
as Russia and China.24
Mutual economic benefits. Wider access to markets, technology sharing, and
road or rail infrastructure linking the Gulf with the Mediterranean are some of the
potential economic benefits of expanded Israel-Arab relations.25 Gulf states may
feel urgency to attract investment that could help them diversify their fossil-fuel
export-centered economies, and many regional countries may anticipate the need
to boost their appeal as trade and investment partners in light of new
opportunities amid increased global competition (including between the United
States and China) for markets, resources, and infrastructure projects. Section
1279 of the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020 (Title XII,
Subtitle H of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act, P.L. 116-283)
authorized the establishment of a program to support Arab-Israeli cooperation on
innovation and advanced technologies.
Arab public opinion. Arab state leaders considering entering into or maintaining
normalization with Israel might gauge whether expected benefits from
normalization would outweigh concerns about popular criticism or unrest they
might face for possibly undermining the Palestinian cause.26 Public opinion polls

21 Jared Szuba, “Trump orders US Central Command to include Israel amid strategic shift,” Al-Monitor, January 15,
2021.
22 Defense Security Cooperation Agency Transmittals 21-01, 21-03, and 21-05, November 10, 2020.
23 Valerie Insinna, “Just hours before Biden’s inauguration, the UAE and US come to a deal on F-35 sales,” Defense
News
, January 20, 2021.
24 CRS Report R46580, Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge and Possible U.S. Arms Sales to the United Arab Emirates,
coordinated by Jeremy M. Sharp and Jim Zanotti.
25 The Israel-UAE treaty signed in September 2020 says, “Recognizing also their shared goal to advance regional
economic development and the flow of goods and services, the Parties shall endeavor to promote collaborations on
strategic regional infrastructure projects and shall explore the establishment of a multilateral working group for the
‘Tracks for Regional Peace’ project.” The Israeli foreign ministry released a proposal for this project, a rail line from
Israel to Saudi Arabia and the UAE via the West Bank and Jordan, in August 2019. A major part of its appeal would be
allowing the participant countries to bypass the two major chokepoints of the Strait of Hormuz (Persian Gulf) and Bab
al-Mandab (Red Sea). See Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tracks for regional peace - regional land bridge and hub
initiative, August 5, 2019.
26 See, for example, Jared Malsin and Amira al-Fekki, “Egypt’s ‘Cold Peace’ a Harbinger for Region,” Wall Street
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from the past decade suggest relatively unchanging and widespread Arab
opposition to diplomatic recognition of Israel.27 Normalization efforts to date
have not triggered significant unrest, but outside insight is limited into public
opinion, its drivers, and how popular reactions are shaped by the nature of
authoritarian Arab regimes. It is unclear whether Gulf populations with no direct
history of armed conflict with Israel might be more willing to accept pragmatic
cooperation with Israel than those in Egypt, Jordan, and other countries who have
fought Israel in the past.
The above factors could influence future Saudi decisions on normalization with Israel. Some key
Saudi figures—possibly including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—may be willing to
drop or ease preconditions for Saudi-Israel normalization that relate to the Israeli-Palestinian
peace process. Specific incentives to do so could include heightened regional cooperation on Iran,
U.S. offers of advanced arms, prospects to boost Saudi economic diversification, and greater
Saudi influence over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.28
Prospects Under the Biden Administration and 117th Congress
Before President Biden took office, some of his foreign policy advisors expressed intentions to
support further Arab-Israeli normalization,29 while also voicing interest in repairing U.S. ties with
the Palestinians.30 However, the Biden Administration may be hesitant—partly due to sentiment
within Congress—to consider selling the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, drone aircraft, or other
advanced arms to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, or other states in connection with such normalization.31
During his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on January 19, 2020,
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “there are certain commitments that may have been
made in the context of getting those countries to normalize relations with Israel that I think we
should take a hard look at.... But the work that was done to push forward on the normalization
with Israel, I applaud…. I would hope that we could build on that as well.”
Regarding the Palestinians, Ambassador Richard Mills, Acting U.S. Representative to the United
Nations, announced on January 26 that the Biden Administration would seek to reengage with
Palestinian leaders and people, resume economic development and humanitarian aid, and
preserve the viability of a negotiated two-state solution. Ambassador Mills also stated:
In this vein, the United States will urge Israel’s government and the Palestinian Authority
to avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult, such as annexation
of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing
compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. We hope it will be possible

Journal, December 17, 2020.
27 Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, The 2019-2020 Arab Opinion Index: Main Results in Brief, Figure 88,
available at https://www.dohainstitute.org/en/Lists/ACRPS-PDFDocumentLibrary/Arab-Opinion-Index-2019-2020-
Inbreef-English-Version.pdf.
28 Guzansky, “Saudi Arabia and Normalization with Israel.”
29 Barak Ravid and Alayna Treene, “The only Trump foreign policy Biden wants to keep,” Axios, December 6, 2020.
30 David M. Halbfinger, “Biden’s Win Means a Demotion for Netanyahu and Less Focus on Israel,” New York Times,
November 9, 2020.
31 Jacob Magid, “Biden aide on UAE F-35 sale: Only Israel was meant to have those jets in region,” Times of Israel,
November 1, 2020. For background on various issues at play, see CRS Report R46580, Israel’s Qualitative Military
Edge and Possible U.S. Arms Sales to the United Arab Emirates
, coordinated by Jeremy M. Sharp and Jim Zanotti.
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to start working to slowly build confidence on both sides to create an environment in which
we might once again be able to help advance a solution.32
As part of the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act enacted in December 2020, the Nita M.
Lowey Partnership for Peace Act of 2020 (Title VIII of P.L. 116-260) authorized the future
establishment of a fund to support Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation programs, and
an initiative to promote Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation.
The impact that policy changes from the incoming Biden Administration might have is unclear.
Partly due to diminished prospects for a peace process, some reports suggest that the incoming
Administration may not urgently press Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct negotiations.33
Additionally, the Administration may confront legal constraints or political opposition to restoring
certain types of aid for Palestinians unless the PLO/PA is willing to significantly change
domestically popular welfare payments that arguably incentivize acts of terror.34 It is also unclear
whether and how the Administration or Congress might specifically address Trump-era policy
changes mentioned above that were aimed at legitimizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Gaza and Its Challenges
The Gaza Strip—controlled by the Sunni Islamist group Hamas (a U.S.-designated terrorist
organization)—faces difficult and complicated political, economic, and humanitarian
conditions.35 Palestinian militants in Gaza regularly clash with Israel’s military as it patrols
Gaza’s frontiers with Israel, and the clashes periodically escalate toward larger conflict. Since
2018, Hamas and Israel have reportedly worked through Egypt and Qatar in efforts to establish a
long-term cease-fire around Gaza that could ease Israel-Egypt access restrictions for people and
goods.
Iran and the Region
Israeli officials cite Iran as a primary concern to Israeli officials, largely because of (1) antipathy
toward Israel expressed by Iran’s revolutionary regime, (2) Iran’s broad regional influence
(especially in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon),36 and (3) Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and
advanced conventional weapons capabilities. Israeli observers who anticipate the possibility of a
future war similar or greater in magnitude to Israel’s 2006 war against Lebanese Hezbollah refer
to the small-scale military skirmishes or covert actions since then involving Israel, Iran, or their
allies as the “the campaign between wars.”37
Iranian Nuclear Issue and Regional Tensions
Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought to influence U.S. decisions on the international agreement
on Iran’s nuclear program (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). He
opposed the JCPOA in 2015 when it was negotiated by the Obama Administration, and welcomed

32 U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Richard Mills, Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on
the Situation in the Middle East (via VTC), January 26, 2021.
33 Jacob Magid, “Biden hopes to deprioritize Israel-Palestinian conflict but might not be able to,” Times of Israel,
December 11, 2020.
34 CRS In Focus IF10644, The Palestinians: Overview and Key Issues for U.S. Policy, by Jim Zanotti.
35 Ibid.
36 For information on this topic, see CRS Report R44017, Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policies, by Kenneth Katzman.
37 See, for example, Efraim Inbar, “Iran and Israel: The Inevitable War?” Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security,
January 6, 2021.
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President Trump’s May 2018 withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA and
accompanying reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s core economic sectors. Facing the
intensified U.S. sanctions, Iran has reduced its compliance with the 2015 agreement.
U.S.-Iran tensions since the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA have led to greater regional
uncertainty, with implications for Israel.38 Some Israelis have voiced worries about how Iran’s
demonstrated ability in 2019 to penetrate Saudi air defenses and target Saudi oil facilities could
transfer to efforts in targeting Israel.39 In January 2021, one source claimed there was evidence
that Iran has transferred advanced drones (loitering munitions) capable of targeting Israel or Arab
Gulf states to the Iran-supported Houthi movement in Yemen.40 Additionally, Iran and Israel
reportedly exchanged cyberattacks during 2020—with Iran supposedly targeting Israel’s drinking
water supply and various companies, and Israel an Iranian seaport and government agencies.41
As the Biden Administration considers diplomacy with Iran on the nuclear issue, including
possibly reentering the JCPOA, Israel is one of several regional U.S. partners voicing interest in
having its views taken into account. During his confirmation hearing on January 19, Secretary of
State Blinken said that consulting with Israel and Arab Gulf states on the nuclear issue would be
vitally important. Netanyahu has voiced support for continuing the intensified sanctions against
Iran instead of “just go[ing] back to the JCPOA.”42 In light of possible Israeli covert action during
2020 that was related to Iran’s nuclear program, including an explosion at its Natanz uranium
enrichment facility and the assassination of a top scientist, some observers speculate about the
possibility that future Israeli operations might influence or disrupt diplomacy on the nuclear
issue.43 In late January, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, Chief of Staff for the Israel Defense
Forces (IDF), stated his opposition to anything that resembles the 2015 JCPOA and said that the
IDF is developing plans to counter Iran’s possible advancement toward nuclear weapons.44
Hezbollah
Lebanese Hezbollah is Iran’s closest and most powerful non-state ally in the region. Hezbollah’s
forces and Israel’s military have sporadically clashed near the Lebanese border for decades—with
the antagonism at times contained in the border area, and at times escalating into broader
conflict.45 Speculation persists about the potential for wider conflict and its regional
implications.46 Israeli officials have sought to draw attention to Hezbollah’s buildup of mostly

38 See, for example, CRS Report R45795, U.S.-Iran Conflict and Implications for U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman,
Kathleen J. McInnis, and Clayton Thomas.
39 Uzi Even, “Iran Attack on Saudi Arabia Shows Why Israel Must Shut Down Its Nuclear Reactor,” haaretz.com,
October 6, 2019.
40 Tom O’Connor, “Exclusive: Iran Positions ‘Suicide Drones’ in Yemen as Red Sea Tensions Rise,” Newsweek,
January 13, 2021.
41 “Cyberattack hits Israeli companies, with Iran reportedly the likely culprit,” Times of Israel, December 13, 2020;
Dalia Dassa Kaye, “Has Israel been sabotaging Iran? Here’s what we know,” washingtonpost.com, July 15, 2020.
42 Israeli Prime Minister’s office, Additional Remarks by PM Netanyahu at his Meeting with US Treasury Secy. Steven
Mnuchin, January 7, 2021.
43 Ben Caspit, “Netanyahu bristles in warning as Biden seeks reentry to Iran deal,” Al-Monitor, January 26, 2021;
David Wainer and Ivan Levingston, “Israel Wants to Derail Biden’s Plan to Rejoin Iran Nuclear Deal,” Bloomberg,
January 12, 2021.
44 Yaniv Kubovich and Judy Maltz, “Israel’s Chief of Staff: Return to Iran Deal Is ‘Wrong,’ Military Action ‘Should
Be on the Table,’” haaretz.com, January 27, 2021.
45 CRS Report R44759, Lebanon, by Carla E. Humud; CRS In Focus IF10703, Lebanese Hezbollah, by Carla E.
Humud.
46 For possible conflict scenarios, see Nicholas Blanford and Assaf Orion, Counting the cost: Avoiding another war
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Iran-supplied weapons—including reported upgrades to the range, precision, and power of its
projectiles—and its alleged use of Lebanese civilian areas as strongholds.47
Ongoing tension between Israel and Iran raises questions about the potential for Israel-Hezbollah
conflict. Various sources have referenced possible Iran-backed Hezbollah attempts to build
precision-weapons factories in Lebanon.48 Some reports assess that Hezbollah does not want
escalation, partly due to significant political and economic problems in Lebanon, but do not rule
out the potential for heightened conflict owing to miscalculation between Hezbollah and Israel.49
Syria and Iraq: Reported Israeli Airstrikes Against Iran-Backed Forces
Israel has reportedly undertaken airstrikes in conflict-plagued Syria and Iraq based on concerns
that Iran and its allies could pose threats to Israeli security from there. Iran’s westward expansion
of influence into Iraq and Syria over the past two decades has provided it with more ways to
supply and support Hezbollah, apparently leading Israel to broaden its regional theater of military
action.50 The U.S. base At Tanf in southern Syria reportedly serves as an impediment to Iranian
efforts to create a land route for weapons from Iran to Lebanon.51 Russia, its airspace
deconfliction mechanism with Israel, and some advanced air defense systems that it has deployed
or transferred to Syria also influence the various actors involved.52
Since 2018, Israeli and Iranian forces have repeatedly targeted one another in Syria or around the
Syria-Israel border. After Iran helped Syria’s government regain control of much of the country,
Israeli leaders began pledging to prevent Iran from constructing and operating bases or advanced
weapons manufacturing facilities in Syria.53 In April 2020, then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett
said that Israeli policy had shifted from blocking Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to forcing it out
entirely.54
In Iraq, reports suggest that in the summer of 2019, Israel conducted airstrikes against weapons
depots or convoys that were connected with Iran-allied Shiite militias. A December 2019 media
report citing U.S. officials claimed that Iran had built up a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic
missiles in Iraq that could pose a threat to U.S. regional partners, including Israel.55 Perhaps
owing to sensitivities involving U.S. forces in Iraq, then-Defense Minister Bennett suggested in

between Israel and Hezbollah, Atlantic Council, May 13, 2020; Hanin Ghaddar, “How Will Hezbollah Respond to
Israel’s Drone Attack?” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policywatch 3171, August 28, 2019.
47 See, for example, “Hezbollah says it has doubled its arsenal of guided missiles,” Associated Press, December 28,
2020; Ben Hubbard and Ronen Bergman, “Who Warns Hezbollah That Israeli Strikes Are Coming? Israel,” New York
Times
, April 23, 2020.
48 “Hezbollah says it has doubled its arsenal of guided missiles,” Associated Press; Ben Caspit, “Hezbollah, Israel
losing red lines,” Al-Monitor, September 4, 2019.
49 See, for example, Amos Harel, “For Hezbollah, Beirut Devastation Makes Provoking Israel Even Riskier,”
haaretz.com, August 6, 2020.
50 Seth J. Frantzman, “Are Israeli Drones Targeting Hezbollah Officers in Syria?” nationalinterest.org, April 17, 2020;
Caspit, “Hezbollah, Israel losing red lines.”
51 Seth Jones, “War by Proxy: Iran’s Growing Footprint in the Middle East,” Center for Strategic and International
Studies, March 11, 2019.
52 Anna Ahronheim, “Russia: Syrian air defense nearly hit passenger plane after Israeli attack,” jpost.com, February 8,
2020; Seth J. Frantzman, “What’s behind Russia’s criticism of Israeli airstrikes in Syria,” jpost.com, February 8, 2020.
53 See, for example, Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, PM Netanyahu’s Speech at the United Nations General Assembly,
September 27, 2018.
54 “Defense minister: We’ve moved from blocking Iran in Syria to forcing it out,” Times of Israel, April 28, 2020.
55 Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt, “Iran Is Secretly Moving Missiles Into Iraq, U.S. Officials Say,” New York Times,
December 5, 2019.
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February 2020 that Israel would avoid further direct involvement there—leaving any efforts to
counter Iran-backed forces in Iraq to the United States.56
China: Investments in Israel and U.S. Concerns57
U.S. officials have raised some concerns with Israel over burgeoning Chinese investments in
Israeli high-tech companies and civilian infrastructure.58 Israel-China investment ties have grown
since China announced its Belt and Road Initiative in 2013,59 with Israel as an attractive hub of
innovation for Chinese partners, and China as a huge potential export market and source of
investment for Israeli businesses.
Closer Israel-China economic relations have led to official U.S. expressions of concern,60
apparently focused on the possibility that China might gather intelligence or acquire technologies
with the potential to threaten U.S. national security in such fields as cybersecurity, artificial
intelligence, satellite communications, and robotics. Previously, China-Israel defense industry
cooperation in the 1990s and 2000s contributed to tension in the U.S.-Israel defense relationship
and to an apparent de facto U.S. veto over Israeli arms sales to China.61 Partly due to U.S.
concerns regarding China’s involvement in Israel’s economy, Israel created an advisory panel on
foreign investment in Israel in late 2019.62 However, this panel reportedly does not have the
authority to review investments in sectors such as high-tech that accounted for most of China’s
investments in Israel in the previous decade.63 Apparently, debate continues within Israel’s
government about how to balance economic interests with national security concerns.64
In the past two years, U.S. officials have made notable efforts to discourage Chinese involvement
in specific Israeli infrastructure projects. President Trump reportedly warned Prime Minister
Netanyahu in March 2019 that U.S. security assistance for and cooperation with Israel could be
limited if Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE establish a 5G communications network in Israel,
in line with similar warnings that the Administration communicated to other U.S. allies and
partners.65 Two Israeli analysts wrote in March 2020 that Israeli officials reportedly blocked
Chinese companies from working on Israeli communications infrastructure.66 In May 2020,

56 Nati Yefet and Judah Ari Gross, “Bennett: US agreed to counter Iran in Iraq while Israel fights it in Syria,” Times of
Israel
, February 10, 2020.
57 For background on past U.S. concerns regarding Israeli defense transactions with China, see CRS Report RL33476,
Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti; CRS Report RL33222, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, by Jeremy
M. Sharp.
58 Shira Efron et al., Chinese Investment in Israeli Technology and Infrastructure: Security Implications for Israel and
the United States
, RAND Corporation, 2020; and Shira Efron, et al., The Evolving Israel-China Relationship, RAND
Corporation, 2019.
59 For more information on the Belt and Road Initiative, see CRS Report R45898, U.S.-China Relations, coordinated by
Susan V. Lawrence.
60 Ron Kampeas, “Breaking China: A rupture looms between Israel and the United States,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
June 2, 2020.
61 Efron et al., The Evolving Israel-China Relationship, 2019, pp. 15-20.
62 Arie Egozi, “Israelis Create Foreign Investment Overseer; China Targeted,” Breaking Defense, November 13, 2019.
63 Efron et al., Chinese Investment in Israeli Technology, 2020, pp. 24-25.
64 James M. Dorsey, “Israel-China Relations: Staring into the Abyss of US-Chinese Decoupling,” The Globalist, June
9, 2020; Mercy A. Kuo, “US-China-Israel Relations: Pompeo’s Visit,” The Diplomat, May 27, 2020.
65 Hiddai Segev, Doron Ella, and Assaf Orion, “My Way or the Huawei? The United States-China Race for 5G
Dominance,” Institute for National Security Studies Insight No. 1193, July 15, 2019.
66 Hiddai Segev and Assaf Orion, “The Great Power Competition over 5G Communications: Limited Success for the
American Campaign against Huawei,” Institute for National Security Studies Insight No. 1268, March 3, 2020.
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shortly after then-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited Israel and voiced concern that
Chinese access to Israeli infrastructure could complicate U.S.-Israel cooperation, Israel’s finance
ministry chose a domestic contractor to construct a $1.5 billion desalination plant, turning down
the bid from a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Group.67
Additionally, the U.S. Navy reportedly reconsidered its practice of periodically docking at the
Israeli naval base in Haifa, because a state-owned Chinese company (the Shanghai International
Port Group) secured the contract to operate a new terminal at Haifa’s seaport for 25 years
(beginning in 2021).68 In the conference report (H.Rept. 116-333) accompanying the FY2020
National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 116-92), Congress recommended that the U.S.
government “convey to the Government of Israel the serious security concerns with respect to the
leasing arrangements of the Port of Haifa, and urge consideration of the security implications of
such foreign investment in Israel.” Other state-owned Chinese companies are developing a new
port in Ashdod (which also hosts an Israeli naval base), and taking part in construction for Tel
Aviv’s light rail system and road tunnels in Haifa.69

67 “Amid US pressure, Israel taps local firm over China for $1.5b desalination plant,” Times of Israel, May 26, 2020.
68 Roie Yellinek, “The Israel-China-U.S. Triangle and the Haifa Port Project,” Middle East Institute, November 27,
2018. Reportedly, the Israeli government plans to limit sensitive roles at the port to Israelis with security clearances.
Jack Detsch, “Pentagon repeats warning to Israel on Chinese port deal,” Al-Monitor, August 7, 2019.
69 Efron et al., The Evolving Israel-China Relationship, 2019, p. 38.
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Appendix. Israeli Political Parties in the Knesset
and Their Leaders

RIGHT
Likud (Consolidation) – 36 Knesset seats
Israel’s historical repository of right-of-center nationalist ideology; skeptical of
territorial compromise; has also championed free-market policies.
Leader: Binyamin Netanyahu
Born in 1949, Netanyahu has served as prime minister since 2009 and also was prime
minister from 1996 to 1999. Netanyahu served in an elite special forces unit (Sayeret
Matkal), and received his higher education at MIT. Throughout a career in politics and
diplomacy, he has been renowned both for his skepticism regarding the exchange of
land for peace with the Palestinians and his desire to counter Iran’s nuclear program
and regional influence. He is generally regarded as both a consummate political
dealmaker and a security-minded nationalist. However, he has negotiated with the
Palestinians, and many observers discern cautiousness in Netanyahu’s decisions
regarding the nature and scale of military operations. His rhetorical support for more
assertive populist and nationalistic measures (including diminishing judicial powers and
annexing West Bank territory) has increased after criminal allegations surfaced
against him for corruption, and after President Trump took office.
Yisrael Beitenu
(Israel Our Home) – 7 seats
Pro-secular, right-of-center nationalist party with base of support among Russian
speakers from the former Soviet Union.
Leader: Avigdor Lieberman
Born in 1958, Lieberman served as Israel’s defense minister until his resignation in
November 2018. He served as Israel’s foreign minister for most of the period from
2009 to May 2015 and is generally viewed as an ardent nationalist and canny political
actor with prime ministerial aspirations. Lieberman was born in the Soviet Union (in
what is now Moldova) and immigrated to Israel in 1978. He worked under Netanyahu
from 1988 to 1997. Disil usioned by Netanyahu’s wil ingness to consider concessions
to the Palestinians, Lieberman founded Yisrael Beitenu as a platform for former
Soviet immigrants. He was acquitted of corruption allegations in a 2013 case.
Yamina
(Right) – 5 seats
Right-of-center merger of three parties: New Right, Jewish Home, and National
Union; base of support among religious Zionists (mostly Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews);
includes core constituencies supporting West Bank settlements and annexation.
Leader: Naftali Bennett
Born in 1972, Bennett served previously as defense, education, and economy
minister. He served in various special forces units (including as a reservist during the
2006 Hezbol ah conflict in Lebanon). Bennett was a successful software entrepreneur
and has lived in America. He served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2008
while Netanyahu was opposition leader. He led the Yesha Council (the umbrella
organization for Israeli West Bank settlers) from 2010 to 2012.


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LEFT
Labor (Avoda) – 3 seats
Labor is Israel’s historical repository of social democratic, left-of-center, pro-secular
Zionist ideology; associated with efforts to end Israel’s responsibility for Palestinians
in the West Bank and Gaza.
Leader: Amir Peretz
Born in 1952, Peretz is Israel’s economy minister. He became Labor’s leader for the
second time in July 2019, after serving as party leader from 2005 to 2007. He was

first elected to the Knesset in 1988 and has served as defense minister (during the
2006 Hezbol ah conflict) and environment minister. Peretz was a farmer in southern
Israel and served as mayor of Sderot before joining the Knesset.

Meretz (Vigor) – 3 seats
Meretz is a pro-secular Zionist party that supports initiatives for social justice and
peace with the Palestinians, and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s Israel
Democratic Party.
Leader: Nitzan Horowitz
Born in 1965, Horowitz became Meretz’s leader in June 2019 and was first elected to
the Knesset in 2009. He had a long career as a prominent journalist before entering
politics.
CENTER
Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) – 15 seats
Centrist party largely formed as an alternative to Prime Minister Netanyahu,
ostensibly seeking to preserve long-standing Israeli institutions such as the judiciary,
articulate a vision of Israeli nationalism that is more inclusive of Druze and Arab
citizens, and have greater sensitivity to international opinion on Israeli-Palestinian
issues.

Leader: Benny Gantz
Born in 1959, Gantz is Israel’s defense minister, justice minister, and alternate prime
minister, and is scheduled to become prime minister by November 2021 under the
unity agreement with Netanyahu. He served as Chief of General Staff of the Israel
Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015. He established Hosen L’Yisrael (Israel Resilience
Party) in December 2018. Hosen L’Yisrael merged with the Yesh Atid and Telem
parties for the April 2019, September 2019, and March 2020 elections under the
Kahol Lavan name. When the party split in March 2020 after Gantz agreed to pursue
a unity government with Netanyahu, Hosen L’Yisrael kept the Kahol Lavan name. He
has sought to draw contrasts with Netanyahu less through policy specifics than by
presenting himself as a figure who is less polarizing and less populist.
Yesh Atid-Telem – 16 seats
Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) is a centrist party in existence since 2012 that has
championed socioeconomic issues such as cost of living and has taken a pro-secular
stance. Telem (Hebrew acronym for National Statesman-like Movement) formed in
January 2019 by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon as a center-right, pro-
nationalist alternative to Netanyahu. The parties merged with Hosen L’Yisrael in early
2019, then split from it in March 2020.
Leader: Yair Lapid
Born in 1963, Lapid is the leader of the opposition in the Knesset. He came to
politics after a career as a journalist, television presenter, and author. He founded the
Yesh Atid party in 2012, and from 2013 to 2014 he served as finance minister.

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Derech Eretz (Way of the Land) – 2 seats
Center-right faction formed from the split of Kahol Lavan in March 2020.
Leaders: Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel
Born in 1968, Hauser was Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary from 2009 to 2013 and later
led a coalition promoting recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Born in 1975, Hendel is Israel’s communications minister. He has been an academic,
journalist, and author covering national security issues. Both men joined Telem in
early 2019 but formed Derech Eretz when Telem refused to join a unity government
in March 2020.

ULTRA-ORTHODOX
Shas (Sephardic Torah Guardians) – 9 seats
Mizrahi Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”) party; favors welfare and education funds in
support of Haredi lifestyle; opposes compromise with Palestinians on control over
Jerusalem.
Leader: Aryeh Deri
Born in 1959, Deri is Israel’s interior minister and minister for Negev and Galilee
development. He led Shas from 1983 to 1999 before being convicted for bribery,
fraud, and breach of trust in 1999 for actions taken while serving as interior minister.
He returned as the party’s leader in 2013.

United Torah Judaism – 7 seats
Ashkenazi Haredi coalition (Agudat Yisrael and Degel Ha’torah); favors welfare and
education funds in support of Haredi lifestyle; opposes territorial compromise with
Palestinians and conscription of Haredim; generally seeks greater application of Jewish
law.
Leader: Yaakov Litzman
Born in 1948, Litzman is Israel’s construction and housing minister. He was born in
Germany and raised in the United States before immigrating to Israel in 1965.
Educated in yeshivas (traditional Jewish schools), he later served as principal of a
Hasidic girls’ school in Jerusalem. He was first elected to the Knesset in 1999 and has
previously served as a member of the Knesset’s finance committee.
ARAB
Joint List – 15 seats
Electoral slate featuring four Arab parties that combine socialist, Islamist, and Arab
nationalist political strains: Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), Ta’al
(Arab Movement for Renewal), Ra’am (United Arab List), Balad (National Democratic
Assembly).
Leader: Ayman Odeh
Born in 1975, Odeh is the leader of Hadash, an Arab Israeli socialist party, and of the
Joint List. An attorney, he served on the Haifa city council before becoming Hadash’s
national leader in 2006. He supports a more democratic, egalitarian, and peace-
seeking society, and has sought protection for unrecognized Bedouin vil ages and
advocated for drafting young Arab Israelis for military or civilian national service.

Sources: Various open sources.
Note: Knesset seat numbers based on results from the March 2, 2020, election. The Gesher (Bridge) and
Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) parties each have a single member of the Knesset.


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Author Information

Jim Zanotti

Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs



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