Israeli president’s visit to White House highlights Biden’s anger at Netanyahu

President Joe Biden, right, meets with President Isaac Herzog of Israel in the Oval Office on October 26, 2022. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

President Joe Biden, right, meets with President Isaac Herzog of Israel in the Oval Office on October 26, 2022. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

JERUSALEM — Isaac Herzog, the President of Israel, will meet with President Joe Biden on Tuesday before delivering a joint address to Congress the following day. His visit highlights the enduring US-Israeli relationship, but also underscores tensions between Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has not received an invitation to the White House since regaining power in Israel. Last year.

The bipartisan welcome for Herzog, whose post is largely ceremonial, reflects how the US government views Israel as a key strategic and military ally in the Middle East. The United States provides Israel with nearly $3.8 billion in annual aid, large quantities of weapons and defense technology, extensive diplomatic coverage at the United Nations Security Council, and crucial construction assistance. new alliances with Arab countries.

But Herzog’s presence will also be a reminder of Netanyahu’s absence. Biden has ostensibly refused to reward Netanyahu with an invitation to the White House since returning to power in December as the head of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

Sign up for The Morning of the New York Times newsletter

Herzog’s invitation to Washington has angered some Democratic lawmakers, who say Herzog is a proxy for Netanyahu and will boycott his speech to protest Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.

The timing of Herzog’s visit comes just days before Netanyahu is expected to move forward with a controversial plan to limit the influence of his country’s justice system. The plan sparked political unrest in Israel and drew particular criticism from Biden, who said the US-Israeli partnership must be rooted in a shared approach to democracy.

Biden also recently described Netanyahu’s coalition as “one of the most extreme” since the 1970s, and said he would not welcome Netanyahu to Washington “in the short term.”

Yet the Biden administration denied last week that it was discussing a formal reassessment of its relationship with Israel, and its diplomats continue to push back on action against Israel at the United Nations for its treatment of Palestinians. The White House is also investing considerable effort in mediating a normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, one of Netanyahu’s main foreign policy goals.

But Biden and his administration have nonetheless expressed growing frustration with Netanyahu, expressing particular opposition to his decisions to undermine the power of Israel’s Supreme Court, build more Israeli homes in the occupied West Bank and allow retroactively Israeli settlements built on the territory without government approval. .

US officials view Israeli settlement in the West Bank as a major obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – an outcome that remains the Biden administration’s preferred solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even as a growing number analysts conclude that a Palestinian state is no longer possible.

Washington also balked at comments from some of Netanyahu’s more hardline cabinet colleagues, particularly Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, who said the Israeli state should “wipe out” a Palestinian town at the center of recent violence. State Department spokesman Ned Price called the remarks “irresponsible, disgusting, and repugnant.”

For some Israeli critics of Netanyahu, the Biden administration’s stance has not been tough enough. Anti-government protesters have gathered outside US Embassy branches in Tel Aviv at least twice in recent days, some of them carrying banners pleading with Biden to “Save Us!”

But for Netanyahu supporters, Biden’s approach has already been too forceful. Amichai Chikli, Netanyahu’s minister for diaspora affairs, said Biden’s objections were “pre-arranged and orchestrated” by the Israeli opposition. He also told Biden’s ambassador, Thomas R. Nides, to “mind his own business” after the US diplomat suggested Netanyahu slow down his judicial overhaul.

On Monday, Yoav Kisch, the education minister, said in a radio interview, “I tell you in the clearest possible way: of course, it would have been appropriate for Prime Minister Netanyahu to travel” instead. of Herzog.

Kisch added: “I’m glad the president is traveling and I think it’s important.” But, he said, “the bottom line is that this whole thing with Biden is most likely fueled and inflated by elements inside the State of Israel,” a reference to Netanyahu’s opponents.

Relations between the United States and Israel have often gone through difficult times. In the 1950s, the Eisenhower administration clashed with David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, over his brief invasion of Egypt.

In the 1970s, the Ford administration chilled ties due to Israel’s reluctance to withdraw from territory it had captured from Egypt in 1967. In the 1990s, Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton clashed with successive Israeli prime ministers, including Netanyahu, over settlement construction.

Two decades later, Netanyahu fell out with President Barack Obama – particularly after Netanyahu delivered his own joint speech to Congress without Obama’s blessing.

But while most of those earlier disagreements were limited to specific geopolitical differences — usually over Egypt, Iran, or the Palestinians — the spat between Biden and Netanyahu is different because it partly involves a dispute over values. said Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington. .

Biden suggested that Netanyahu’s plans to limit the judiciary would change the character of Israeli democracy and therefore undermine the perception that the US-Israel alliance is rooted in a common vision of governance.

“Previous differences were about politics,” Rabinovich said. “This dispute is about the very essence of Israel.”

Although Netanyahu’s critics are mostly happy with Biden’s decision to snub him, some are still worried about Herzog’s visit.

Herzog is a former political opponent of Netanyahu, competing against him for the post of prime minister in 2015. But he is also seen as a bridge builder who has tried to find common ground this year between the government and its opponents . Some fear that Herzog, in an effort to defuse tensions, will persuade Biden to invite Netanyahu to the White House later this year.

To illustrate the point, some protesters held doctored images of Netanyahu using Herzog’s face as a mask.

Netanyahu biographer and critic Ben Caspit issued a direct warning to Herzog in a newspaper column on Monday. “I have only one request for you, President Herzog,” Caspit wrote. “When you are in the White House, you are not there as a lawyer for Benjamin Netanyahu. You are there as a lawyer for the State of Israel. Your job is not to “sell” Netanyahu to Biden. »

For his part, Herzog tried to depoliticize his trip. Over the weekend, his office released a statement saying he would use the trip to highlight the threat from Iran and would be accompanied by Leah Goldin, the mother of a soldier who was killed during the war in Gaza in 2014 and whose remains are being held. by militants in the Palestinian enclave.

“I very much look forward to representing the entire nation of Israel as President of the State of Israel,” Herzog said in the statement.

circa 2023 The New York Times Society

Leave a Comment