Netanyahu expected to meet Biden on UN sidelines in New York September 21

Unclear if meeting in Washington, sought by Netanyahu, set to be offered as well — though Yom Kippur holiday would make timing difficult

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-US vice president Joe Biden speak in front of media prior to a meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-US vice president Joe Biden speak in front of media prior to a meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with US President Joe Biden on September 21 when both leaders are in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, Israeli diplomatic sources told The Times of Israel Thursday.

If it indeed takes place, the meeting will end a lengthy period that saw the American leader keep Netanyahu at arm’s length as the premier impatiently awaited an invitation, underlining the deep malaise between Washington and the hardline government in Jerusalem.

However, it remained unclear if the pair would also sit down at the White House in Washington, as Netanyahu has sought. This would be seen as a significant diplomatic upgrade from a sideline meeting far outside the seat of American power.

There was no immediate comment from the Prime Minister’s Office or the White House, both of which had last month confirmed plans for a meeting while declining to name a time or place.

The Walla news site, citing American sources, reported that Biden was still on the fence about whether to invite Netanyahu to the White House following the UN General Assembly.

The timing of such a meeting would likely be complicated by the Yom Kippur high holiday, which begins the night of September 24, a Sunday. According to Walla, if Netanyahu were invited to the White House, it would force the Israeli premier to spend Shabbat in the US before racing home prior to the onset of Yom Kippur. Israeli political tradition prevents dignitaries abroad from traveling or doing official work on the day of rest.

Biden had declared in late March that he would not be inviting Netanyahu “in the near term,” saying he was “very concerned” about the health of Israeli democracy amid the judicial overhaul plans pushed by the coalition since it took office in December.

US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington on June 26, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

But in July, Netanyahu’s office announced that Biden had invited him for a meeting, without naming a place. Confirming the invitation at the time, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby noted that the gesture “doesn’t mean we have less concerns about the judicial reform or about the extremists in the Israeli government. We remain concerned.”

That announcement came as President Isaac Herzog visited the White House for the second time in nine months, widely seen as a signal that the US believes the relationship with Israel transcends the government of the day.

Netanyahu has allegedly seethed over the perceived snub, and has imposed a ban on members of his government meeting with US officials in Washington before he gets to, according to Hebrew media reports. The prime minister has denied the reports, even as a string of senior White House officials made a trek to New York last week in order to hold talks with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (L) meets with White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk in New York on August 29, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Ties between Jerusalem and Washington have been rocky at best since Netanyahu retook power at the tail end of 2022, backed by a coalition that includes far-right extremists. The White House has condemned settlement expansions, rampant anti-Palestinian violence, the threatened erosion of civil liberties and the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system.

Netanyahu’s office has sought to downplay the divide, saying last month 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.”

In a likely sign of the administration’s unhappiness with the Israeli government, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s office said Tuesday that it had invited him for high-level meetings next week with White House and State Department officials in Washington.

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