Biden invites Netanyahu to White House, calls for ‘consensus’ on judicial overhaul

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

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, September 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, September 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US President Joe Biden has invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington for a follow-up meeting before the end of the year, the White House says in its readout after the two leaders met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first between the two leaders since Netanyahu returned to power last December. No newly elected prime minister had waited longer for a meeting with a US president since Levi Eshkol in 1964.

During their meeting, Biden reiterated “his concern about any fundamental changes to Israel’s democratic system, absent the broadest possible consensus,” the White House says.

Netanyahu assured Biden in comments to reporters before the sit-down that Israel will remain a vibrant democracy, even as he seeks to continue advancing his government’s judicial overhaul.

A senior Israeli official tells reporters that Netanyahu privately assured Biden that he wants to secure consensus support either in the Knesset or among the public. However, Netanyahu offered the US such assurances before his government went on to pass the first piece of overhaul legislation without any support from the opposition.

“With regard to ongoing tension and violence in the West Bank, [Biden] emphasized the need to take immediate measures to improve the security and economic situation, maintain the viability of a two-state solution, and promote a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” the US readout says.

The White House says Biden urged Israel and the Palestinians to adhere to their commitments made at a pair of regional summits earlier this year in Egypt and Jordan where they agreed not to advance any unilateral measures that exacerbate tensions.

Israel also made commitments there not to approve new settlement construction but that was only for a temporary period, and the hardline government made sure to advance record numbers of settler homes both before and after the agreed-upon period.

Biden and Netanyahu agreed to work toward convening a third summit between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the US, Egypt and Jordan in the near future, the White House says.

The US readout says the two leaders also welcomed “the likely convening soon of a ministerial meeting” of the Negev Forum, which Israeli officials have said will be held in Morocco next month. However, the earthquake that recently hit the country may again cause a delay of the gathering.

Biden and Netanyahu also welcomed the recent announcement made at the G20 to develop the India Middle East Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) through the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel and “discussed how the project can benefit the entire Middle East region with investment and new forms of collaboration across two continents,” the White House says.

The rest of the readout highlights the usual Biden talking points about the countries’ close bilateral ties “based on the bedrock of shared democratic values,” the US’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security, its commitment to ensuring Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon and its desire to advance Israel’s integration in the region.

It notably does not specify Saudi Arabia in that context, though Biden made a point of discussing a potential Israel-Saudi deal during his opening remarks to reporters ahead of the meeting.

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