The Biden administration on Wednesday doubled down on its pushback against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s persistent claim that US President Joe Biden has invited him to the White House, an apparent effort to raise the meeting’s profile.
“We still anticipate that the president will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu sometime in the latter part of this year in the fall, and [that] it’ll be somewhere in the United States,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in response to a question on the matter during a phone briefing with reporters.
The answer further pointed to a possible meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s high-level week in September, which both Netanyahu and Biden plan to attend. However, such a meeting would be one of many the US president will hold that week and ostensibly be lower profile than the Oval Office photo-op that the Israeli premier likely envisions as he seeks to boost his diplomatic bonafides that have taken a hit due to his far-right coalition partners.
After the leaders spoke on July 17, Netanyahu’s office issued a readout saying that Biden had invited him to meet in the US. The White House readout made no mention of an invitation and a source familiar with the issue, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Netanyahu was the one who raised the idea of a meeting on the call and that Biden merely responded that he’d be willing to do so but that no further details were discussed.
Officials in Netanyahu’s office then began reaching out to Hebrew media reporters insisting that not only did Biden invite the prime minister but that the president suggested that the meeting take place in the White House.
All White House officials have said on the record to date was that the leaders have agreed to meet but that an exact time and location have not yet been set.
Netanyahu returned to office on December 29, and it took seven months for Biden to even agree to a meeting. In late March, the president said one would not take place in the “near term” amid Washington’s disapproval of the government’s judicial overhaul.
Accordingly, Biden’s decision to take Netanyahu up on his meeting proposal during their July 17 call, even as the coalition pledged to move forward and pass the first piece of overhaul legislation raised eyebrows.
A senior US official justified the move at the time, noting that the lack of meeting was being framed in the media as a snub by Biden rather than one warranted due to the actions of Netanyahu and his hardline coalition.
“It was becoming about us, which is not what we wanted,” the senior US official told The Times of Israel at the time. “Now, we’ve taken the issue off the table.”