US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday in New York City on the sidelines of the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, amid protests from ex-pat Israelis and the fringe extremist Neturei Karta group.
At the start of the meeting, Biden said the two would discuss “some of the hard issues, that is upholding democratic values that lie at the heart of our partnership including checks and balances in our systems and preserving a path to a negotiated two-state solution and ensuring that Iran never, never acquires a nuclear weapon — because even where we have some differences, my commitment to Israel is, as you know, ironclad.
“I think without Israel there’s not a Jew in the world who’s secure. I think Israel is essential,” Biden said.
“I think we live in a time of great promise, but also great danger,” Netanyahu said in response, noting the that the recently-announced economic and energy corridor to link Asia, the Middle East and Europe together “will make Israel a very important hub on a highway of unprecedented prosperity.
“But I think — and you think — that it can do something much bigger than that,” Netanyahu said.
“I think under your leadership Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Such a peace would go a long way to first advance the end of the Arab Israeli conflict, achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish State, and advance a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is something within our reach.”
Netanyahu referenced the “shared goal” of neutralizing the Iranian threat, adding that that shared goal can be best served through “a credible military threat, crippling sanctions and supporting the brave men and women of Iran who despise that regime and who are our real partners for a better future.”
Netanyahu also emphasized that “one thing is certain and one thing will never change, and that is Israel’s commitment to democracy. We will continue to uphold the values that both our proud democracies cherish.”
Following their meeting, a readout was released by the White House, saying:
With regard to ongoing tension and violence in the West Bank, the President emphasized the need to take immediate measures to improve the security and economic situation, maintain the viability of a two-state solution, and promote a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. To that end, President Biden called on all parties to fulfill their commitments made during meetings held earlier this year in Aqaba, Jordan and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to include refraining from further unilateral measures. The two leaders and their teams agreed to consult with regional partners with the aim of convening a meeting soon in this important Aqaba/Sharm format. The President also reiterated his concern about any fundamental changes to Israel’s democratic system, absent the broadest possible consensus. Finally, President Biden invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington D.C. before the end of the year to continue direct collaboration on this broad range of issues.
This was the first meeting of the two leaders since Netanyahu took office in December 2022 for his sixth term as Israel’s head of state. The prime minister is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on Friday morning.
On the Israeli side, the meeting was attended by Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi and Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, along with the Cabinet Secretary and Prime Minister’s Military Secretary. On the American side, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan were joined by Biden advisers Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein, both of whom are familiar with Middle Eastern politics.
Following statements to the media, the president and the prime minister spoke privately in a “four-eyes” meeting.
The bilateral meeting was still a backhanded slap to the Israeli leader, who up to this point had not yet received an invitation to the White House as is customary following a head of state’s taking office. The vague promise of an invitation to the White House “before the end of the year” carefully avoided a commitment to a firm date for that meeting.
Herzog Met with Biden Already
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, who formerly headed the left-leaning National Union faction, met with Biden at the White House this past July, despite Herzog serving in a primarily ceremonial role. The two men discussed the Israel-Palestinian Authority conflict and Iran’s nuclear program at that time.
Congressional Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters two months ago that Herzog’s visit had been scheduled nearly a year prior, to mark Israel’s 75th anniversary, and had “nothing to do with Bibi Netanyahu.”
McCarthy added that if the American president “snubs” the Israeli head of state, the Speaker will “gladly invite” Netanyahu to the United States.
White House Red Carpet – For Others
Biden has rolled out the red carpet for several others, some of whom have provided significantly less assistance to the United States than Israel, including Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, with whom he will meet at the White House later this week.
Nor are Netanyahu’s troubles limited to the disrespectful way he has been treated by the US government. Ex-pat Israelis organized themselves in force in New York to hound the prime minister for the entire week he plans to be in the city.
The “unXeptable” group called on their followers early in the day on Wednesday to gather for an anti-Bibi rally led by Brad Lander – New York City’s Comptroller – as well as Nancy Kaufman and Eyal Naveh, among others, outside The Intercontinental Hotel where Biden and Netanyahu were scheduled to meet.