June 23, 2024

Biden to meet Israel’s president at White House amid tensions

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Joe Biden meets Israel’s president at the White House Tuesday but the warm greeting will not mask tensions between the US leader and what he calls Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “extremist” government.

President Isaac Herzog, who has a mostly ceremonial role in Israel, was scheduled to meet with Biden in the Oval Office and on Wednesday is set to address a joint session of Congress.

The high-profile visit will be a chance for official Washington to underline its backing for one of the United States’ deepest and most consequential alliances anywhere in the world.

Biden is likely to raise the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the threat from Iran’s nuclear program, and two Israeli domestic issues that have caused consternation in the White House — Netanyahu’s bid to reform the court system and a campaign of aggressive expansion by Jewish settlers into Palestinian territory.

“The visit will highlight our enduring partnership and friendship. The president will reaffirm the ironclad commitment of the United States to Israel’s security,” the White House said.

Overshadowing Herzog’s presence, however, will be the leader with the real power in Israel — Netanyahu.

Relations between Netanyahu and the Biden administration have been rocky ever since he made his political comeback at the head of a hardline coalition government in December.

His judicial reforms, said by opponents to be a power grab, have prompted weeks of mass street demonstrations, triggering disquiet in Washington.

Netanyahu’s coalition, which relies on far-right and ultra-Orthodox religious parties, has also sparked condemnation with its policies in the Palestinian occupied territories.

A few lawmakers in Biden’s Democratic Party have said they are considering boycotting Herzog’s address to Congress in protest.

  • ‘Disturbing’ concerns –

On the eve of Herzog’s visit, Biden eased tensions somewhat by speaking with Netanyahu and agreeing to meet with him later this year in the United States.

It will be the first such meeting since Netanyahu returned to office late last year.

But the Biden administration would not say whether the Israeli leader would get a coveted White House invitation or whether they’d talk elsewhere — potentially at the UN General Assembly session in New York.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that “they’ve agreed they will meet, probably before the end of this year” — perhaps “in the fall.”

They were still working out the “all the details, the wheres and the whens.”

In Monday’s phone call, Netanyahu told Biden that the judicial bill would be passed next week and that he intended to “reach wide public support for the rest of the reform during the summer recess,” his office said.

According to the US readout of the call, Biden “expressed concern about continued Jewish settlement growth” and “stressed the need to take measures to maintain 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 US-Israel relationship,” the US readout said.

Earlier this month, Biden told CNN in an interview that Netanyahu presides over “one of the most extremist… cabinets that I’ve seen.”

Kirby cautioned that the agreement by Biden to meet Netanyahu doesn’t mean “that we have less concerns over these judicial reforms, or less concerns over some of the extremist activities and behaviors by some members of the Netanyahu cabinet.”

“Those concerns are still valid. They’re disturbing,” he said.

©️ Agence France-Presse

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