Mondoweiss / September 20, 2023
Joe Biden met with Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, which some saw as a rebuke, but made clear his support for Israel remains “ironclad.” “I think without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world that’s secure,” Biden told reporters. “I think Israel is essential.”
On September 20, President Joe Biden met with Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time since the Israeli Prime Minister took power last winter.
The leaders didn’t meet at The White House, but in New York City. Some viewed this as a rebuke from Biden, as his administration has publicly criticized the proposed judicial reforms of Israel’s right-wing government.
However, Biden before the meeting Biden declared that the United States remains committed to Israel regardless of disagreements. “Today, we’re going to discuss some of the hard issues. And that is upholding democratic values that lie at the heart of our partnership, including checks and balances in our systems, and preserving the path to a negotiated two-state solution, and ensuring that Iran never, never acquires a nuclear weapon,” he told reporters.
“Because even where we have some differences,” he continued, “My commitment to Israel … is ironclad. I think without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world that’s secure. I think Israel is essential.”
The White House readout of the meeting says Netanyahu will be invited to The White House before the end of the year.
The meeting was criticized across social media by Palestinian organizations and progressive groups. “Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is the corrupt, racist leader of a far-right, fascist government that will stop at nothing to advance apartheid and steal more Palestinian land. President Biden should not be meeting with him – full stop,” tweeted the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU).
“Biden should not have met with a man who’s using right-wing violence to erode democratic institutions & further apartheid rule,” wrote Justice Democrats. “We condemn this meeting with Netanyahu who has encouraged violence against Palestinians, erosion of their human rights, and violated international law.”
Despite the administration’s public criticisms of Israel, it has done virtually nothing to hinder the Israeli government’s domestic agenda. In fact, Biden is currently pushing for two policies that deliver sizable political wins to Netanyahu: normalization with Saudi Arabia and admission into the Visa Waiver Program.
Earlier this week a Saudi-owned newspaper reported that Saudi Arabia had pulled out of its talks with Israel over the country’s refusal to grant any concessions to Palestinians. The source, which specifically cited the actions of Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, was allegedly an official within Netanyahu’s office.
U.S. and Israeli officials immediately threw water on the report and insisted that talks remained ongoing. “The Palestinian issue will not be an obstacle to peace,” said Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen.
Before their meeting today Biden told Netanyahu, “If you and I 10 years ago were talking about normalization with Saudi Arabia, I think we’d look at each other like, ‘Who’s been drinking what?’”
“Maybe Irish whiskey,” replied Netanyahu before adding, “I think that under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. And I think such a peace would go a long way for us to advance the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state and advance a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Outside the meeting hundreds of “pro-democracy” protesters gathered to denounce the Netanyahu government, many of them waving Israeli flags.
“We cannot stand by as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government sabotaged the vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” Comptroller Brad Lander told the crowd. “There was no democracy with occupation. Any meaningful democratic future for Israel required an end to the occupation. Fighting the occupation was part and parcel of our fight for Israel’s democratic future.”
Last night Israeli forces killed six Palestinians, four in an attack on Jenin and two others in Gaza and Jericho/Ariha.
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss