When Joe Biden travelled to Israel as vice president in 2010, says Lexington in The Economist, he was “blindsided” by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government declaring that it would expand Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. The announcement seemed a “deliberate humiliation”, and some of President Obama’s aides thought the delegation should immediately return home. But Biden “had his own ideas”. He issued a statement criticising the move, then he and his wife Jill went for “dinner with the Netanyahus”. After the dinner, he gave the Israeli PM a photograph scrawled with a message: “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love ya.”
Biden has “long demonstrated unusual patience and forbearance” with his Israeli counterpart. In May 2021, when Israel responded to a barrage of Hamas rocket attacks with airstrikes on Gaza, he didn’t call for restraint. Instead, he voiced support for the strikes in public, while challenging Netanyahu in private over his endgame. “Hey man, we’re out of runway here,” Biden told him during the fourth call between them. “It’s over.” The Israeli PM agreed to a ceasefire. This chemistry between the two leaders is partly personal: Biden got to know Netanyahu when the latter was working at the Israeli embassy in Washington in the 1980s. But it’s more about history. Biden “remembers the six-day war, he remembers the ’73 war”, says Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US during Obama’s first term. “There’s a saying, ‘He has Israel in his heart.’ It’s very personal with him.” Given the extent of the current crisis, Biden’s ability to influence Netanyahu is “in for a severe test”.