Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed all cabinet ministers to avoid traveling to the United States, and to avoid meeting US government officials if they do, until he is invited to the White House by US President Joe Biden, a report said Tuesday.
The report by Channel 12 news said that Netanyahu is angry he has not been invited yet and believes any minister meeting American government officials would underline that the premier himself has not attended such a meeting.
Two and a half months after forming his hard-right government, not only has Netanyahu not been invited to the US, there aren’t even initial talks about coordinating such a visit. The report noted that former premier Naftali Bennett, who entered office in June 2021, visited the White House in August of that year.
The Biden administration has expressed uneasiness with several of the new Israeli government’s policies, including its plan to radically overhaul the justice system, its approval of settler homes and its intention to legalize unrecognized settler outposts.
“As long as I don’t visit there, nobody does,” Netanyahu was quoted as telling his ministers.
The report, which cited an unnamed source with knowledge of the matter, said the only exception was Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, a former ambassador to the US, who acts as Netanyahu’s point-man for Israeli ties with the Biden administration.
The network claimed that Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who was visiting the US this week, had been told not to meet government officials even before the White House said no such meetings would be held due to Smotrich’s recent remark — later walked back — that Israel should “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara.
Netanyahu’s office declined a request to comment on the Channel 12 report.
The premier’s spokesperson Yonatan Urich expressed displeasure with the report by removing Yaron Avraham, the journalist who reported the story, from the official WhatsApp group for Likud party statements.
At a briefing with reporters during Netanyahu’s visit to Rome last weekend, a top Israeli official in the delegation said the premier has yet to receive an invite for “a number of reasons” but declined to elaborate, saying the White House would be better suited to explain the matter.
A US official and a senior Middle Eastern diplomat told The Times of Israel last month that plans by the US and the UAE to host Netanyahu have been placed on the back burner, with the two sources explaining that the respective governments are frustrated with the new government’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and are waiting to see what unfolds on the ground during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins later this month. The Ramadan period has historically added another layer of tension between Israelis and Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is making do with visiting several European countries. He traveled last week to Italy, was set to take off Wednesday for Germany, and is expected to visit Britain next week.