US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone on Monday but there are conflicting versions of what was discussed.
John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson, described the phone call between the two leaders at a press briefing, echoing the White House announcement by saying, “they obviously talked about a broad range of global and regional issues of mutual concern.”
“They agreed that they will meet probably before the end of this year,” Kirby said. “All the details of the wheres and the whens are still being worked out. What we have found to be a useful process here is dialogue and diplomacy. These are two leaders that have known each other for a long time. And as friends can and as friends should, you speak honestly, openly, forthrightly, and candidly. You lay it out there, and President Biden has done that publicly with respect to the judicial reforms.”
The White House announcement described the conversation as covering “a broad range of global and regional issues of mutual concern.”
“The President underscored his iron-clad, unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and condemned recent acts of terror against Israeli citizens,” the White House statement claimed. “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. The President stressed the need to take measures to maintain the viability of a two-state solution and improve the security situation in the West Bank. To that end, he welcomed Israel’s willingness to consider new steps to support Palestinian livelihoods and recognized promising steps by the Palestinian Authority to reassert security control in Jenin and other areas of the West Bank. He expressed concern about continued settlement growth and called on all parties to refrain from further unilateral measures.”
But one point that was glaringly absent from the White House statement. The written statement made no mention of a discussion about a visit by Netanyahu.
The meeting may not take place at the White House, Netanyahu’s preferred location as a sign of his return to favor. But it may take place in New York in September when both leaders are expected to attend the UN General Assembly.
Monday’s conversation was the third between the two leaders since Netanyahu returned to power on December 29. The last time they spoke was in March, when Biden also raised alarm regarding the overhaul.
Israel-US relations have been brought into question lately. Opposition leader Yair Lapid spoke at a Yesh Atid Party meeting on Monday.
The Israeli government is leading us into this crisis, making the biggest and most dramatic changes to the regime in our history, without holding a single discussion — not even one — about the economic, security, social and political consequences of the move,” Lapid said, adding that “the United States is no longer our closest ally.”
The rift seems to be focused on Netanyahu. Biden said on CNN earlier this month that the current Israeli government is the most extreme he has seen since he started working with Israeli prime ministers 50 years ago.
This was conjectured by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in a column past week headlined “The US Reassessment of Netanyahu’s Government Has Begun,” warning that the Biden administration is reassessing its ties with Netanyahu’s government, amid growing American alarm over the actions of the hard-right Israeli coalition. In the column, Friedman suggested that Netanyahu was being “led around by the nose” by his right-wing coalition partners.
Friedman expressed shock that Netanyahu “would be ready to risk Israel’s relations with America and with global investors and WOULD BE READY TO RISK A CIVIL WAR IN ISRAEL just to stay in power with a group of ciphers and ultranationalists.”
But other Israeli leaders are clearly welcome in Washington. Israeli President Isaac Herzog, a member of the left-wing Labor party, will address a joint session of Congress on July 19. During his trip, Herzog will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington and visit with Jewish community leaders in New York City. Herzog met with the U.S. president at the White House last October under the previous Israeli government.
Biden has yet to extend an invitation to Washington to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he took office again for the sixth time in December. The U.S. president said in March that he has no plans to invite Netanyahu in the “near term.”