update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

In first phone call to Netanyahu in months, Biden offers US invitation

"They have agreed that they will meet, probably before the end of this year," per a White House spokesman.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks at a White House press briefing, July 17, 2023. Source: YouTube.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks at a White House press briefing, July 17, 2023. Source: YouTube.

Some seven months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel’s top job, U.S. President Joe Biden finally invited him for an official meeting.

“They have agreed that they will meet, probably before the end of this year, and all the details of the wheres and the whens are still being worked out,” John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council spokesman, told reporters Monday during the White House press briefing.

Earlier in the day, the two leaders spoke on the phone.

Biden has been criticized for not inviting Netanyahu to the White House since the latter took office in December. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman recently called Biden’s months-long failure to do so “despicable.”

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister’s Office announced that Netanyahu and Biden held a “warm and long” call, which focused on strengthening the U.S.-Israel alliance, countering the Iranian threat, expanding regional peace and promoting stability in Judea and Samaria.

Kirby, in a readout of the conversation, stated that Biden brought up “a broad range of global and regional issues of mutual concern.”

“The two consulted on our close coordination to counter Iran, including through regular and ongoing joint military exercises. They noted that the U.S.-Israel partnership remains a cornerstone in preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon,” he stated.

Kirby added that the president “underscored his ironclad, unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

During the call, Biden and Netanyahu also discussed the situation in Judea and Samaria, Kirby stated.

The U.S. president “welcomed Israel’s willingness to consider new steps to support Palestinian livelihoods, and recognized promising steps by the Palestinian Authority, for their part, to reassert security control in Jenin and other areas of the West Bank,” per Kirby.

Biden furthermore “expressed concern about continued settlement growth and called on all parties to refrain from further unilateral measures.”

The long-awaited phone call was a chance for Biden to make clear his opposition to the judicial reform plans of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, the Hebrew-language Walla news site reported earlier on Monday.

Biden had criticized Israel’s government previously, crossing the line in the view of some critics when he weighed in on the country’s domestic politics and expressed a hope that Netanyahu “walks away from” his judicial reform plans.

In response to Biden reiterating the need for the “broadest possible consensus” before making changes to the country’s judicial system, Netanyahu reportedly told the president he strives to forge an agreement over the summer.

“The prime minister updated the president of the United States on the bill that is slated to be passed next week by the Knesset and on his intention to reach wide public support for the rest of the reform during the summer recess,” Jerusalem stated. The reform refers to a proposal to restrict the use of the “reasonableness” standard by the Israeli Supreme Court.

The call took place shortly before Israeli President Isaac Herzog left for Washington, where he will visit the White House twice and address a joint session of Congress. Herzog’s trip to Washington and New York is meant to strengthen the ties between the two countries, “which are placed above all controversy,” his office stated.

He plans to meet with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other senior officials, and address Congress on Tuesday during the visit, which wraps up after he spends Shabbat in New York.

Ahead of the trip, Herzog said: “I am very much looking forward to representing the entire nation of Israel as president of the State of Israel before the elected representatives of the American people, to mark the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel.”

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