Biden to hold talks with Israel’s president at White House amidst strained relations
President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog at the White House on Tuesday, marking an important diplomatic engagement. However, the meeting takes place against the backdrop of simmering tensions between the U.S. leader and what he refers to as the “extremist” government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Herzog, whose role in Israel is mostly ceremonial, will have discussions with President Biden in the Oval Office. Additionally, on Wednesday, he will address a joint session of Congress, providing an opportunity for official Washington to reaffirm its unwavering support for one of America’s most profound and consequential alliances worldwide.
During their meeting, President Biden is expected to address several key topics, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, as well as two pressing Israeli domestic issues that have caused concerns within the White House. These issues pertain to Netanyahu’s efforts to reform the court system and the aggressive expansion of Jewish settlers into Palestinian territories.
“The visit will highlight our enduring partnership and friendship. The president will reaffirm the ironclad commitment of the United States to Israel’s security,” stated the White House.
However, overshadowing Herzog’s presence during this visit is the fact that the person with the real political power in Israel remains Netanyahu. Relations between Netanyahu and the Biden administration have been fraught since he assumed office as the leader of a hardline coalition government in December.
Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms, which opponents claim are a means of consolidating power, have triggered weeks of mass demonstrations, causing unease in Washington. Furthermore, Netanyahu’s coalition, reliant on far-right and ultra-Orthodox religious parties, has faced condemnation due to its policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.
As a sign of some easing of tensions, President Biden had a phone conversation with Netanyahu on the eve of Herzog’s visit. They agreed to meet later this year in the United States, marking their first encounter since Netanyahu’s return to office. However, it remains uncertain whether Netanyahu will receive a coveted White House invitation or if the meeting will take place elsewhere, potentially at the upcoming UN General Assembly session in New York.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby explained to reporters that they had agreed to meet “probably before the end of this year,” potentially in the fall. The logistical details are still being worked out.
During their phone call, Netanyahu informed Biden that the judicial bill would be passed the following week and expressed his intention to gain broad public support for the remaining reform during the summer recess, as stated by his office. According to the U.S. readout of the call, Biden voiced concerns about continued Jewish settlement expansion and emphasized the need to take measures to ensure the viability of a future Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Regarding the judicial reforms, Biden reiterated that “shared democratic values have always been and must remain a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” according to the U.S. readout.
In a recent CNN interview, President Biden described Netanyahu’s cabinet as “one of the most extremist… cabinets that I’ve seen.” Nonetheless, Kirby cautioned that Biden’s agreement to meet Netanyahu did not imply a reduction in concerns over the judicial reforms or the extremist activities and behaviors exhibited by some members of the Netanyahu cabinet. Kirby described these concerns as valid and disturbing.