President Biden will meet with Israeli President Isaac Herzog Tuesday at the White House, a diplomatic overture to one of America’s key allies amid tensions between the Biden administration and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
White House officials have described the meeting with Herzog as an opportunity for Biden to strengthen an already « iron » relationship between the two countries. They said the two leaders would discuss preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon as part of the White House’s termed its « unwavering commitment » to Israel’s security.
But declarations of mutual respect have masked tensions between the two governments that have grown in recent years, as Biden has grown increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu’s stances on Israeli settlements and efforts to overhaul the nation’s justice system.
On Monday, Biden ended months of delay in paying Netanyahu a formal visit to the United States. After the two spoke on the phone, Mr. Biden invited the prime minister to meet in the United States, most likely before the end of the year, though not necessarily at the White House.
Tuesday’s visit by Herzog, whose position in Israel’s cabinet is largely ceremonial, could be an opportunity for Biden to express his commitment to the Middle Eastern country without offering Netanyahu the political benefits of a White House visit.
Israel is a central ally of the United States in the Middle East and receives billions of dollars in aid each year. White House officials said Biden planned to emphasize areas of cooperation, including progress toward normalizing relations with other Middle Eastern countries and diplomatic efforts with the Palestinians.
Some supporters in the US view Mr. Herzog, who ran against Mr. Netanyahu nearly a decade ago, as a bridge builder whose efforts to find a middle ground in Israel’s tense political climate are a welcome change from some of the elements most extremist government in the country.
But even before Tuesday, his visit was generating controversy. Several liberal lawmakers said they would boycott Herzog’s planned speech to Congress Wednesday in protest of Netanyahu’s rule.
Earlier this month, Biden called Netanyahu’s cabinet « one of the most extreme » he has seen in decades of foreign policy engagement with Israel, effectively acknowledging the anger of many progressives at the prime minister’s policies.
White House officials said on Tuesday Biden would voice his concerns about the Israeli government’s expansion of settlements, which the administration sees as an obstacle to an eventual two-state solution, with a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Officials said Mr Biden also reportedly expressed to Mr Herzog his unease with Mr Netanyahu’s efforts to make changes to the judicial system that critics say would undermine the power of Israel’s Supreme Court.
“We want to see Israel as as vibrant and viable a democracy as possible,” said John F. Kirby, White House National Security Council spokesman. « And that means you build programs and reform and change in a compromise-based way. »
But officials also said the president’s meeting with Mr. Herzog in the Oval Office will attempt to underscore the history of friendship that has characterized the relationship between the two countries since the creation of Israel.
« As Israel celebrates its 75th anniversary, the visit will highlight our enduring partnership and friendship, » said a White House statement. « The two leaders will discuss opportunities to deepen Israel’s regional integration and create a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East. »