Judging by Trump’s reaction, he may not have received the response he expected from Netanyahu, one of the president’s most fervent global allies, less than two weeks ahead of the presidential election.
“Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi, Sleepy Joe,” the president asked from his desk in the Oval Office. He inched forward to lean over the phone receiver. “Do you think he would have made this deal? Somehow I don’t think so.”
A pause ensued. Trump looked down at his clasped hands.
“Well, Mr. President,” Netanyahu began as Trump raised his gaze, “one thing I can tell you is that we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America, and we appreciate what you’ve done enormously."
The president shifted his hands as the Israeli leader spoke. Trump’s face appeared to fall.
“Yep,” he responded.
Commentators were quick to note that Netanyahu pointedly avoided taking the partisan bait.
While a handful of populist and right-wing world leaders have endorsed Trump for reelection — the most recent of whom was the prime minister of Slovenia, the birthplace of the first lady, on Friday — Netanyahu has notably refrained from doing so.
The populist Israeli leader, the country’s longest serving prime minister, is himself facing a struggle for political survival amid an ongoing election impasse, corruption trial and now the coronavirus. Netanyahu has repeatedly touted his relationship with Trump as one of his distinguishing political assets. In recent Israeli elections — there have been three since April 2019 — Netanyahu’s campaign displayed posters of Trump and the prime minister shaking hands beside the slogan, “Another league."
With opinion polls showing Biden ahead of the incumbent, however, Netanyahu may be looking to hedge his bets.
The right-wing Israeli leader has benefited from policy changes pushed through by the Trump administration in Israel’s favor and against the Palestinians. While U.S. support for Israel has for decades been a largely nonpartisan issue in Washington, the issue has grown increasingly politically polarized under the Trump administration.