ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Herzog receives formal White House invitation, with PM still waiting on invite

President will meet Biden on Tuesday, address joint session of Congress and meet VP on Wednesday, before heading Thursday to New York where he’ll meet Jewish leaders, spend Shabbat

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

President Isaac Herzog (left) and US President Joe Biden at the White House on October 26, 2022. (GPO)
President Isaac Herzog (left) and US President Joe Biden at the White House on October 26, 2022. (GPO)

US President Joe Biden on Thursday formally extended an invitation for President Isaac Herzog to visit the White House on Tuesday, July 18, in an embrace of Israel’s head of state as Washington’s ties with the current government in Jerusalem remain icy.

Herzog will be in Washington to give an address on Wednesday to a joint session of Congress in honor of Israel’s 75th anniversary.

While it has long been understood that he will meet with Biden, such invitations are traditionally formally extended only a few days ahead of time.

The White House said in a statement that Herzog’s visit “will highlight our enduring partnership and friendship” and that Biden will use the opportunity when they meet on Tuesday to “reaffirm the ironclad commitment of the United States to Israel’s security.”

“The two leaders will discuss opportunities to deepen Israel’s regional integration and to create a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East,” the White House added. Biden directed his aides earlier this year to try and broker a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but US officials have said recently that such a deal will be all but impossible to strike due to Israel’s ongoing policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel in just six months has advanced more settlement construction than it has in any previous year. In response to an ongoing terror wave, it has also escalated its military operations in the West Bank, leading to the highest Palestinian death count in the territory in over two decades.

The White House said Biden would raise the issue, employing a favorite administration talking point of “advanc[ing] equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and security for Palestinians and Israelis.”

Then-US vice president Joe Biden, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint press conference at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Biden will also “stress the importance of our shared democratic values,” the White House said, alluding to the effort by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judiciary. The US has said it does not want to interfere in the specifics of the judicial reform proposals but has insisted that such fundamental changes only be passed with broad consensus and that Israel’s democratic institutions must remain strong and independent.

The administration on Tuesday urged Israeli authorities to “protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly” in a statement issued as police clashed with thousands of protesters across the country in demonstrations against the government’s advancement of the first piece of legislation aimed at overhauling the judiciary.

While it didn’t go as far, the White House National Security Council statement sent to querying reporters appeared similar to some of the responses the US has issued regarding crackdowns on protests by authoritarian regimes around the globe.

‘No way in hell’: Likely starting trend, Ilhan Omar to skip Herzog speech to Congress

The White House said Thursday that Biden and Herzog “will also discuss Russia’s deepening military relationship with Iran, and Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region.” The US has consistently leaned on Israel to increase its aid to Ukraine, while Jerusalem has resisted calls to offer weapons amid fears of upending its own ties with Moscow.

Herzog will meet with US Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday in addition to a range of interagency officials during his two days in Washington, the White House added. He will then travel on Thursday to New York, where he will meet with Jewish community leaders and stay for the weekend.

Palestinians run amid clashes during an Israeli military operation in Jenin in the West Bank, on July 3, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

While Herzog’s office has framed the visit as an opportunity to showcase Israel’s story as well as celebrate 75 years of independence and relations with the US, it is unlikely that those messages will overshadow the growing divide between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government.

It will be Herzog’s second White House visit in less than nine months, while Netanyahu has yet to receive an invitation since returning to office in late December. In late March, Biden said Netanyahu would not be visiting the White House in the “near term” amid Washington’s frustration with his government’s judicial overhaul plan. Days earlier, Israel’s ambassador to Washington was summoned to the State Department for a dressing down over violations of commitments regarding policy toward the Palestinians.

Biden on Sunday said Netanyahu’s coalition has some “of the most extreme members” he’s seen in Israel, lamenting that they back unrestricted settlement growth and don’t recognize any Palestinian right to the territory.

Netanyahu’s office has sought to downplay the divide, saying Wednesday that “it is no secret that we have disagreements with the US government around establishing a Palestinian state, returning to the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran, and PM Netanyahu’s stance against the ‘no surprises’ policy around Israeli actions against Iran. However, the ties between Israel and the US have grown close over the course of decades, and security cooperation has reached an all-time high under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership.”

But after New York Times columnist Tom Friedman penned an op-ed saying that the administration has begun “reassessing” its ties to the Netanyahu government, the White House sufficed by issuing a response that it was not engaged in a “formal” reset, leaving open the possibility that it has started reviewing the relationship in an unofficial manner.

Herzog and Netanyahu met earlier Thursday for one of their regular briefings, which the prime minister used to update the president on Israel’s policy toward Iran so that they are on the same page when Herzog meets with Biden. Herzog also used the opportunity to urge Netanyahu to return to negotiations brokered by the president’s office aimed at securing a compromise with the opposition regarding the judicial overhaul.

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