Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US President Joe Biden in New York Wednesday, in a sit-down long awaited by the Israeli leader that unusually came a full nine months after he returned to office, and which was not held in the White House as Netanyahu had sought.
The meeting came amid tensions between the two over the Israeli government’s contentious judicial overhaul and its far-right elements, but as they also seek to advance what could be a game-changing normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.
Below is the full text of the two leaders’ statements to the press, made before the start of their meeting.
US President Joe Biden
“Hello my friend, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, and I hope we’ll see each other in Washington by the end of the year.”
“One of the things that always stuck in my mind — and we’ve had a lot of discussions over the years, you and I. How long has it been?
(Netanyahu: “Who can count?”)
“I — I tell you what, I — I gave up counting, because he worked for the embassy and I was a freshman senator. And we were both very important then.
“At any rate, seventy-five years ago, the first Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, after declaring independence, used a phrase that I’ve quoted very often. He said that the world stands with Israel so that the dream of generations will be fulfilled. Together, Israel and the United States have been working together to make that dream a reality for a long time.
“You’ve heard me say, many times, if there were no Israel we’d have to invent one.
“It includes building a more stable and prosperous Middle East — that, over time, is beginning to occur, and through historic initiatives begun under previous administrations, including most recently the Indian, Middle East, European economic corridor which I think has enormous promise after the G20 meeting in India, which is going to connect India and Europe through Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel.
“I think it’s a big deal, and we’re working on a lot more together.
“Today, we’re going to discuss some of the hard issues. That is, upholding democratic values that lie at the heart of our partnership, including checks and balances in our systems, and preserving the path to a negotiated two-state solution, and ensuring that Iran never, never, acquires a nuclear weapon.
“Because even where we have some differences, my commitment to Israel, as you know, is ironclad.
“I think without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world who’s secure.
“I think Israel is essential.
“And I look forward to discussing all of this with you, and working together with your team, to fulfill as Ben-Gurion said, the dream of generations.
“I suffer from, oxymoron, Irish optimism. If you and I 10 years ago were talking about normalization with Saudi Arabia, I think we’d look at each other, like, Who’s been drinking what?”
(Netanyahu: “Good Irish whiskey.”)
“Good Irish whiskey. That’s the reason why I’ve never had a drink.
“So, welcome Bibi [using the premier’s nickname], and I hope we can get some things settled today.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
“Thank you, Mr. President, Joe,
“We’ve been friends for over 40 years… Our friendship goes a long way and can take us a long way. I’m delighted to see you.
“I think we live at a time of great promise but also great danger.
“You just spoke about that great promise in the G20 meeting that you participated [in] and led. You spoke about an economic corridor that would link Asia, the Middle East and Europe together, and such a corridor will make Israel a very important hub on a highway of unprecedented prosperity.
“But I think and you think that it can do something much bigger than this. I think that under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and I think such a peace would go a long way, first, to advance the end of the Arab-Israel conflict, achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state, and advance a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is something within our reach.
“I believe that working together we can make history and create a better future for the region and beyond. And also, by working together, we can confront those forces that threaten that future — none more so than Iran.
“I appreciate, Mr. President, your continuous commitment to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. I think that’s critical. And that shared goal of ours can be best achieved by a credible military threat, crippling sanctions and supporting the brave men and women of Iran who despise that regime and who are real partners for a better future.
So I look forward to working with you and your team to realize the promise and confront the threat.
“As you said, we live in uncertain times, rapidly changing times, so I want to reassert here before you, Mr. President, that one thing is certain and one thing will never change and that is Israel’s commitment to democracy. We will continue to uphold the values that both our proud democracies cherish.
“And I think that working together we will realize the promise, roll back the dangers, and bring a better future for our region and the world.
“We can make history, Mr. President. With your leadership, we can make history.”