Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to take off for the United States early Monday, hours after the end of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, on a visit that will feature a series of meetings with world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly but will still be far from what he’d hoped for.
The highest-profile sit-down will be the long-awaited visit with US President Joe Biden in a format that is sure to disappoint the prime minister, who has been angling for a visit to the White House since he returned to office as head of a right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition in late December. The Biden administration has held off on such an invitation amid massive protests and fierce opposition to the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul bid, which Washington has repeatedly warned against.
Instead, Biden has sufficed with a Netanyahu meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly next week. The premier is set to address the gathering of world leaders next Friday morning local time.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said during a Friday briefing that Biden’s meeting with Netanyahu will take place next Wednesday and that the two leaders will “discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues focused on the shared democratic values between the United States and Israel.”
The decision to stress the countries’ shared democratic values hinted at the administration’s intention to continue raising its concern over the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul at next week’s meeting.
Referencing the US effort to broker a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Sullivan said the two leaders would also discuss Biden’s “vision for a more stable, prosperous and integrated region as well as to compare notes on effectively countering and deterring Iran.”
White House officials reportedly told Netanyahu’s office this week that they were looking to host the prime minister at the White House later this year.
A senior US official told the Axios news site Tuesday that the White House wants to see how things unfold with the judicial overhaul before extending an invitation for a follow-up meeting between Netanyahu and Biden in the Oval Office.
There is divided opinion within the Biden administration, with some pushing the president to set aside his differences with Netanyahu ahead of a tough election season in 2024. Others are arguing that embracing Netanyahu could harm the president among the left flank of the Democratic party, which feels Biden is too centrist.
Netanyahu waited over seven months before Biden agreed to a meeting, amid Washington’s frustration over the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul and policies toward the Palestinians.
Prime ministers, including Netanyahu in previous terms, visited the White House much earlier on in their tenures.
US officials said the New York meeting with Netanyahu will still give Biden the opportunity to discuss how the prime minister intends to move forward with the judicial overhaul, and talk over US efforts to broker a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Musk meeting, protests in NY
Taking off from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv early Monday morning, Netanyahu will meet Elon Musk at the Tesla factory in Fremont during a stopover in California, where he will also sit down with experts and business leaders in the fast-moving field of artificial intelligence.
The meeting with Musk comes with the mercurial billionaire facing accusations of amplifying antisemitism on his X social media platform, and as he is embroiled in a feud with the Anti-Defamation League.
The Washington Post, citing five people familiar with the situation, said on Thursday that the planned meeting was part of “a campaign by Musk’s Jewish friends and allies, and executives of his social media company, to stave off the mounting controversy.”
In response, Musk tweeted: “This discussion was planned several weeks ago and is about AI, not the Defamation League (they dropped the ‘A’).”
Israelis in San Francisco said they intended to protest the meeting.
Stream of meetings
In New York later in the week, Netanyahu will meet South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, his office announced Thursday.
These meetings are in addition to meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that were announced earlier in the week.
Biden will separately host Zelensky in Washington, months after meeting with him at the NATO summit in Lithuania in July.
Netanyahu will appear before the UN General Assembly on Friday morning local time in New York, having asked to be moved to that slot for his annual address. These have often been memorable, as he has a tendency to use unorthodox visual aids to underscore his tough talk against Iran and its proxies.
The prime minister has come under criticism for asking for his speech to be moved to Friday morning, ensuring him and his wife a weekend abroad at taxpayer expense.
Netanyahu will spend six days in the US in total, including Shabbat with his staff in an Upper East Side hotel, before hurrying back ahead of the Yom Kippur holiday on Sunday.
A serious security incident back home could shorten Netanyahu’s trip, however.
Protests are expected outside the United Nations headquarters throughout Netanyahu’s time in New York.