February 22, 2024

Biden meets Israel’s Herzog, extends invitation to Netanyahu amid tensions

Washington — President Biden met Tuesday with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House amid ongoing tensions between the two countries Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plans to reform the Israeli judicial system and settlement expansion in the West Bank.

The President’s meeting with Herzog, whose position is largely symbolic, allows him to reaffirm his longstanding support for Israel without taking on Netanyahu, who has not met Mr. Biden since. he resumed office in December.

“I believe, this friendship cannot be broken,” Mr. Biden said before the Oval Office meeting.

Mr Biden spoke to Netanyahu by phone a day before Herzog’s visit, inviting him to meet in the US before the end of the year. Mr. Biden “stressed his commitment to Israel’s iron-clad security” but also expressed concern about his administration’s hard-right policies, according to a White House readout of the call. It is unclear whether the two leaders will meet at the White House.

Mr. Biden has criticized Netanyahu’s efforts to reform Israel’s independent judiciary and weaken the power of the Supreme Court, which has sparked widespread protests in Israel. Mr. Biden has also raised concerns about Israel’s continued growth of its settlements in the West Bank.

President Biden welcomes Israeli President Isaac Herzog to the White House
US President Joe Biden (R) meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in the Oval Office at the White House on July 18, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Mr. Biden called Netanyahu’s Cabinet “very big” and said that the United States “is trying to moderate what is going on.”

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Mr. Biden’s invitation to Netanyahu did not mean those concerns had been alleviated.

“That doesn’t mean we’re … less concerned about these judicial reforms or less concerned about some of the extremist activities and behavior of some members of Netanyahu’s cabinet,” Kirby said Monday. “Those concerns are still valid.”

Herzog told Mr Biden he was “pleased” to hear about the call with Netanyahu.

“We have some enemies who sometimes mistake the fact that we may have some differences that affect our unbreakable bond,” he said.

Herzog echoed Mr. Biden’s concerns, saying Israel is going through a “heated debate” as a society, but said its democracy is “sound, strong and resilient.”

“We are going through challenging moments,” he said. “We should always try to reach an amicable consensus, and I agree with you on that as well.”

Herzog, who also visited the White House last year, plans to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He will also address Congress on Wednesday, marking the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence. He will be only the second Israeli president to address both chambers of Congress; the first was his father, Chaim Herzog, in 1987.

Before arriving in Washington, Herzog’s spokesman said the purpose of the trip was to “strengthen the relationship and partnership between the US and Israel, and to demonstrate the deep ties between the countries.”

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