The White House said on Friday that President Joe Biden was not intentionally snubbing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by not calling him since his inauguration over three weeks ago.
Speculation has swelled in recent days that the new US administration was deliberately taking a frosty approach to Netanyahu, but the premier and US officials have dismissed the concerns.
Biden has called other US allies, but has not spoken with any Middle East leaders.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday, in response to a reporter’s question, that Biden “is looking forward to speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I can assure that will be soon, but I don’t have a specific time or date.”
“It is not an intentional dis. Prime Minister Netanyahu is someone the president has known for some time. Obviously we have a long and important relationship with Israel,” Psaki said. “It is just a reflection of the fact that we’ve only been here for three and a half weeks. He has not called every single global leader yet.”
When pressed that Biden had called other major US allies, Psaki said, “He has called many of them, that is true, some would argue they haven’t received calls yet and they are eager to receive them, but I can assure you he will be speaking with the prime minister soon and he’s looking forward to doing that.”
Psaki also said Thursday that Biden would call Netanyahu soon.
Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told The Times of Israel on Thursday that he was not at all concerned over the lack of contact between Biden and Netanyahu.
“How he has spent his time, and the leaders he has spoken to, is a very clear reflection of the priorities and the emergencies that he inherits as president,” Shapiro said. “I don’t think there’s any other explanation.”
“He’s taking office facing more crises and emergencies both at home and abroad than any president since Franklin Roosevelt,” Shapiro said.
“The Middle East is not on that first tier, but it’s not unimportant,” Shapiro stressed. “And Israel is not unimportant. The call will happen. I’m certain the call will happen fairly soon.”
Biden’s phone calls to foreign leaders during his first week in office showed a focus on immigration and trade (Mexico, Canada), shoring up the NATO alliance against Russia (UK, France, Germany, NATO secretary-general, Russia), and sending signals to China and North Korea, with calls to South Korea and Australia. He’s also called the leaders of India and Japan.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have all spoken with their Israeli counterparts, and CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. visited Israel.
Blinken was also asked about the issue on Monday and told CNN, “I’m sure that they’ll have occasion to speak in the near future.”
Netanyahu was close to former president Donald Trump and had an acrimonious relationship with former president Barack Obama while Biden was his vice president. Netanyahu has also pursued policies that will likely be at odds with the Biden administration’s approach to the Middle East, such as his hard line against Iran and push last year to annex parts of the West Bank.
Netanyahu and Biden have a good relationship stretching back decades, and Biden has longstanding, warm ties to Israel and previous Israeli leaders.
Netanyahu was one of just two Middle East leaders who received a call from Biden after he won the presidential election in November.
On Monday Netanyahu dismissed there was a problem, said he expects Biden to call him soon, and that the president was calling world leaders “as he sees fit.”
The issue has also sparked minor political squabbling inside Israel.
Former Israeli consul-general in New York, Dani Dayan, said the lack of a call was a “clear sign of displeasure.” The former diplomat is now running for Knesset with the New Hope party, which is seeking to replace Netanyahu.
Former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon called for Biden to phone Netanyahu in a tweet earlier this week, hours after Netanyahu’s Likud party decided to remove him from his post as chairman of World Likud.
The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael reported that some Likud members believe Danon issued the tweet to embarrass Netanyahu and spur him to appoint him to a new role to avoid further embarrassment.