White House declines to say if Biden will meet Netanyahu on Washington visit

US national security adviser stresses two leaders in constant contact; says Hamas must simply say ‘yes’ to ceasefire-hostage deal proposal

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with US President Joe Biden in Tel Aviv, October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with US President Joe Biden in Tel Aviv, October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

The White House declined to say on Sunday whether US President Joe Biden will meet Benjamin Netanyahu when the prime minister visits Washington next month to address the US Congress.

“I don’t have anything to announce today,” Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” adding that the two men were in regular communication.

“He’s coming to address the Congress. The president talks to him all the time,” Sullivan said.

Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on July 24. Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel in its war with the Hamas terror group in Gaza, but there have been tensions between the two men over how Israel is conducting the war.

Biden, who is running for reelection in November, has faced criticism over his support for Israel from his left-leaning political base as the Palestinian death toll mounts from Israel’s assault in the war, which began with Hamas’s shock attack on southern Israel on October 7, which killed 1,200 people and saw 251 taken hostage to Gaza, where about half remain.

Biden, who returns to the United States from France later on Sunday, has welcomed the rescue by Israeli forces of four hostages held by Hamas and vowed to keep working until all hostages were released and a ceasefire achieved.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks against the US-led international nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sullivan said he hoped a ceasefire and hostage deal would be in place by the time Netanyahu came to Washington. Hamas must simply say “yes” to the proposal on the table, he said.

The proposal envisions a six-week truce in its first phase, during which the remaining living female, elderly, and sick hostages will be released. Also during this first phase, the parties are to hold talks on a permanent ceasefire.

One clause specifies that the phase one ceasefire can extend beyond the initially allotted six weeks if the negotiations for a permanent ceasefire are still taking place in good faith. The clause was kept vague in a manner that mediators hoped would satisfy both sides enough to at least get them to agree to phase one of the deal.

Israel is awaiting Hamas’s official response to its most recent offer for a deal, though indications by the terror group suggest it will decline the offer.

Last week, Netanyahu received a formal invitation to address Congress. US lawmakers have set July 24 as the date for his address to Congress.

Spearheaded by Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, the invitation was issued after weeks of delay caused by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who gave a speech on the Senate floor in March calling for early elections in Israel to replace Netanyahu. Schumer ultimately acquiesced, saying he was prepared to cooperate with a Netanyahu address as long as it was done in a bipartisan manner.

Nearly 60 Democrats boycotted Netanyahu’s last joint session address in 2015. A much larger number of Democrats will likely boycott Netanyahu’s speech in July, with the war in Gaza becoming increasingly unpopular among progressives.

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