President Joe Biden met Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York for the first time since the Israeli leader returned to power nine months ago, a modest step toward easing tension between the two leaders.
Biden suggested he would relent on his refusal so far to invite Netanyahu to the White House, a meeting the Israeli leader has sought since forming a governing coalition with far-right political parties late last year.
Since then, the U.S. administration has reepeatedly voiced its disapproval over Netanyahu’s efforts to weaken the judiciary and chided his allies for their treatment of the Palestinians.
“I hope we’ll be able to see each other in Washington by the end of the year here,” Biden told Netanyahu at a hotel in New York, where they were both attending the annual session of the U.N. General Assembly.
It wasn’t all positive, though. As the meeting began, Biden said he would raise “some of the hard issues” with Netanyahu, including the “democratic values lie at the heart of our partnership including checks and balances in our systems” — a reference to the judicial reforms.
They were also set to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and a U.S. push for Saudi Arabia and Israel to normalize ties.
The meeting suggested Biden was easing off his wariness toward Netanyahu, who has known him for four decades. Netanyahu had a far warmer relationship with former President Donald Trump, whom he once said was “the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House.”
This time, though Netanyahu, had only praise for Biden.
“Under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu told Biden. “Such a peace would go a long way for us to 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.”
The judicial overhaul has sparked nine months of mass rallies in Israel. Protesters who view the plan as a blow to Israel’s democratic character continued to hound Netanyahu on his visit to New York, with several hundred gathering outside the hotel where he met the US president.
Netanyahu assured Biden that Israel’s commitment to democratic principles hasn’t changed. “We will continue to uphold the values that both our proud democracies cherish,” he said.
The director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency joined the meeting between Biden and Netanyahu to present his position on Iran’s nuclear program, the Saudi talks and Iran-led efforts to target Israelis around the world, according to Netanyahu’s office.
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