US President Joe Biden is slated to meet with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel next month, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Saturday.
The meeting was not planned initially but has been added to Biden’s schedule following Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to dissolve the Knesset, sending Israel back to elections.
The Biden administration wants to avoid the perception that it is meddling in Israel’s election, and there is precedent for presidents to meet both the prime minister and opposition leader during an election campaign, the official said.
Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid last week announced their decision to dissolve the 24th Knesset after just one year in power due to their inability to keep their narrow, politically diverse coalition together any longer. If all goes as planned, Israel will head to its fifth national election in under four years in the fall.
The Knesset is expected to pass the final legislation for its dispersal on Monday, and Lapid will take over as prime minister on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to Saturday reports.
Lapid will greet Biden at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on July 13 and hold several meetings with the president throughout the trip, the US official said. Bennett will also meet Biden, with whom he has built a rapport over the past year.
Lapid and Biden are only believed to have met once before, in 2013, when Lapid was finance minister and the Biden was vice president.
Biden and Netanyahu have had a long relationship, albeit with some political disputes. Netanyahu feuded with former US president Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president.
From July 13 to 16 Biden, will travel Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia where he will participate in a meeting of regional leaders.
A senior US official, discussing Biden’s visit, hinted on Wednesday that more Arab nations were looking to make gestures to improve relations with Israel.
“We are working, in the space that is not in the public domain, with a couple of other countries. And I think you’ll see some interesting things around the time of the president’s visit,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf told a congressional subcommittee.
A Wednesday report also said that US officials requested that Israel limit the list of guests and the duration of the reception ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport when Biden arrives, possibly due to Biden’s age or weather conditions.