If so, the new president had some reason. Mr. Netanyahu has a long history of allying himself with U.S. Republicans and of seeking to aid GOP presidential candidates. As then-President Donald Trump began his reelection campaign last year, the Israeli leader traveled to Washington to endorse Mr. Trump’s soon-to-be-stillborn Middle East peace plan and called him “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”
More tangibly, in an apparent attempt to preempt likely policies of the Biden administration, Mr. Netanyahu approved hundreds of new housing units in the West Bank during the transition and delivered a speech rejecting Mr. Biden’s plan to rejoin an international accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program. In an interview with Israeli television Monday, the veteran prime minister, who faces his own election next month, said he and Mr. Biden had “disagreements on Iran, on the Palestinian issue,” and cast himself as more likely to “stand up” to the new U.S. president than his leading liberal rival.
No doubt the kerfuffle in Israel is exaggerated: President Biden has known Mr. Netanyahu for decades and surely will keep up relations with him. But striking a measure of distance from the Israeli leader is a wise move. In the short term, it should ensure that Israelis, who are being forced to the polls for the fourth time in two years, have a clear understanding about the poor state of relations between Mr. Netanyahu and the party that now controls both houses of Congress as well as the White House. In a 2019 poll, Mr. Netanyahu’s approval rating among U.S. Democrats was 14 percent, and it probably has dropped since then.
Mr. Biden would also be right to avoid the mistake of President Barack Obama, who thought he could work with Mr. Netanyahu to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and persisted long after it became clear the effort was futile. Mr. Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has rightly set the more modest goal of preserving the possibility of Palestinian statehood for the day when Israel and the Palestinians have better leaders.
Meanwhile, Mr. Biden should not allow Mr. Netanyahu to thwart his hope to revitalize and expand the Iran nuclear agreement. Israel insists that the United States should maintain “crippling sanctions” and “a credible military threat” against Tehran, as its ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan, put it this week. But the Trump administration’s three-year-long pursuit of that strategy succeeded only in bringing Tehran back to the brink of producing nuclear weapons. It may be that Iran itself will make it impossible for Mr. Biden to rejoin the accord. But he should not let Mr. Netanyahu stand in his way.