TEL AVIV (JTA) — President Joe Biden has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet in the United States soon, after months of holding off on inviting him to the White House.
The invitation was extended and accepted during a phone call between the two leaders on Monday. Israeli prime ministers typically receive an invitation to Washington shortly after taking office, but Biden, who has known Netanyahu for decades, has so far held off on inviting him to the capital.
This invitation may not exactly end the wait: According to reports from Axios and the Jerusalem Post, citing the prime minister’s office, Biden’s invitation did not mention the White House, meaning the leaders could potentially meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. A White House official confirmed the invitation on Monday.
The delay in the White House invitation has been widely attributed to the right-wing policies pushed by Netanyahu’s government coalition, including an effort to weaken the country’s judiciary — which Biden strongly opposes. The Biden administration has also harshly criticized recent Israeli plans to expand West Bank settlements.
In March, shortly after Netanyahu paused the judicial overhaul in the face of mass protests, Biden said Israel “cannot continue down this road.” Asked when he would be inviting Netanyahu to visit, Biden responded at the time, “Not in the near term.”
In June, Netanyahu announced that he would travel to Beijing on a diplomatic visit. Upon announcing the visit, Netanyahu said that “the U.S. will always be Israel’s most vital ally and irreplaceable ally.”
No date has been set for the U.S. visit, and the invitation comes at the onset of a visit to Washington by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Although Herzog’s position as head of state is meant to be apolitical, his visit has also caused controversy: Several progressive lawmakers have pledged to boycott his speech in protest of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.
In addition to the White House visit, Netanyahu and Biden discussed the judicial overhaul, a key piece of which is set to pass this week. They also discussed countering threats from Iran and easing tensions in the West Bank, which has seen an escalation of violence this year. PJC