ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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White House reiterates Netanyahu visit not yet planned, after McCarthy vows invite

National Security Council spokesperson says premier will get invitation at some point, after Republican House speaker says he’ll invite Netanyahu to Washington if Biden doesn’t

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, right, during the opening of the summer session of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, right, during the opening of the summer session of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday that he believes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be invited to the White House at some point, but reiterated that no such visit is currently planned.

The comment came after Republican US Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, during a visit to Israel, said he would invite Netanyahu to Washington if US President Joe Biden continues to refuse to do so.

Netanyahu has been angling for an invite to the White House since he returned to office in late December. But US-Israel ties have been strained both due to the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul legislation and comments made by the far-right elements of Netanyahu’s government.

Kirby also said in the Monday briefing with reporters that Biden believes in the democratic principles shared between Israel and the US, and wants to see Israel preserve its checks and balances if the government passes its contentious judicial overhaul, the Walla news site reported.

McCarthy said on Sunday and Monday during an official visit to Israel that he would invite Netanyahu to Congress if the White House does not issue an invitation.

After speaking to the Knesset plenum on Monday, McCarthy said at a press conference that it would be appropriate for Netanyahu to visit Washington, but added that such a visit would be conducted in a bipartisan manner, with meetings with Republicans and Democrats.

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks during a press conference at the Knesset, May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I expect the White House to invite the prime minister over for a meeting especially because of Israel’s 75th anniversary,” McCarthy said.

Asked whether he would invite the prime minister to address Congress if no White House invitation was forthcoming, McCarthy said “Yes” and noted that he had “a long relationship with the prime minister.”

McCarthy made similar comments in a Sunday interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper.

“If [an invitation to the White House] doesn’t happen, I’ll invite the prime minister to come meet with the House. He’s a dear friend, as a prime minister of a country that we have our closest ties with,” McCarthy told the newspaper.

McCarthy said that Biden has already waited “too long now. He should invite him soon.”

Just hours after Netanyahu announced a pause in the overhaul legislation in order to allow for negotiations in late March, Biden told reporters that he hoped the prime minister would “walk away” from the current legislative proposals and that he would not be inviting Netanyahu to Washington “in the near term.”

Then-US vice president Joe Biden, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, talk before a dinner at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool)

While Barack Obama was president, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress in 2015, bypassing Obama, in what was widely seen as an unprecedented broadside against the sitting US leader.

The move by Netanyahu — during which he spoke out forcefully against Obama’s attempts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran — colored relations between the two leaders for the remainder of Obama’s term, and was seen as severely damaging to Israel’s ties with the Democratic party. Analysts suggested it was unlikely that Netanyahu would repeat such a move at this point in time.

While Netanyahu and his Likud party have long been seen as more allied with Republican than Democratic lawmakers, the prime minister has worked since returning to office to buck the notion that he has strained ties with the party currently controlling the White House.

And while prominent Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — considered a 2024 contender — visited Israel last week and met with Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s Office issued no statements or photographs from the meeting.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi acknowledged on Friday that Netanyahu’s White House invitation has likely not come because of the judicial overhaul, but stressed that US-Israel ties remain strong.

“It is clear to me that if there was no legal reform, Netanyahu would already have visited the White House,” Hanegbi told Channel 12.

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