Bennett aides to travel to DC for meetings with Biden staff ahead of PM’s visit

NSC chairman Eyal Hulata and diplomatic adviser Shimrit Meir will sit down with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and NSC Mideast coordinator Brett McGurk

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and US President Joe Biden. (composite image: AP, Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and US President Joe Biden. (composite image: AP, Flash90)

Senior aides to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will fly to Washington next week for meetings with their American counterparts in preparation for the premier’s visit to DC, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed to The Times of Israel Monday.

National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata and Bennett’s diplomatic adviser Shimrit Meir will meet with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and NSC Middle East and North Africa coordinator Brett McGurk, the official said, corroborating an earlier Axios report.

The trip will see the first in-person meetings between aides to the two countries’ leaders. Contacts have so far been held virtually. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr was in the region earlier this month, but was only reported to have met with several ministers and not Bennett.

Last month US President Joe Biden extended an invitation for Bennett to visit the White House. The offer was relayed to then-president Reuven Rivlin during a visit, with the latter saying Biden wanted his first meeting with Bennett to take place “as soon as possible.” But the premier will have a hard time leaving the country until the Knesset begins its summer recess on August 8, given the coalition’s razor-thin 61-59 majority in parliament. Flying in August would complicate meetings on Capitol Hill though, as the US Congress will also be in recess that month.

An official from Bennett’s Yamina party said the premier also wants Israel’s next ambassador to the US to already be stationed in Washington by the time he arrives, though the PMO is still fielding candidates for the position. In the meantime, Gilad Erdan has stayed on as envoy. Erdan is to remain in the US to continue serving in his second post as ambassador to the UN.

If he is unable to make it to Washington in August and the visit is delayed to September, Bennett may try and expand his itinerary to include a stop in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly, the Yamina official said, acknowledging that the prime minister will also have to work around a tight White House schedule.

Eyal Hulata in an undated photograph. (courtesy)

Last week, an Israeli official confirmed that the Biden administration agreed to hold off on plans to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinians until after the new Israeli government has passed a budget in early November.

The US is wary of moves that might destabilize Bennett’s nascent coalition and bring about the return of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said anonymously.

The consulate, which mainly served the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, was officially shut down in 2019 by former US president Donald Trump as part of the administration’s transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem. Much of the staff at the historic mission on Agron Street have continued their same jobs at the same location, though under a newly named Palestinian Affairs Unit formed under the larger umbrella of US relations to Israel, considered a de facto downgrading of ties that Biden is keen to reverse.

Bennett’s government asked for the delay, explaining that opposition members would use the reopening of a de facto mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem to drive a wedge into the still-green coalition, the official said.

The new government, made up of an array of parties from across the political spectrum, still needs to agree on passing a budget before it can be considered stable enough to withstand such criticisms from the opposition. It has 145 days from its swearing-in to do so, otherwise elections will be called.

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