Josef Federman & Aamer Madhani
AP / September 21, 2023
NEW YORK – President Joe Biden raised “hard issues,” including protecting the “checks and balances” in a democracy, in a Wednesday meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pushing the Israeli leader to find a compromise on a judicial overhaul that has set off months of mass protests in Israel and concerns in Washington.
Biden also raised concerns about the far-right Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians, urging Netanyahu to take steps to improve conditions in the West Bank at a time of heightened violence in the occupied territory.
The two leaders sat down and took time to chat one-on-one on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. It was their first meeting since Netanyahu took office at the helm of his country’s far-right government late last year.
Relations have cooled since Netanyahu returned to office with a coalition of ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist partners. His new government has stepped up construction in West Bank settlements, angering the U.S., and pressed ahead with its contentious judicial overhaul plan despite deep divisions at home and criticism from the U.S. and other allies.
Biden discusses democratic values with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu [sic]
Megan Lebowitz & Caroline Kenny
NBC News / September 20, 2023
President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday morning on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
The bilateral meeting comes amid tensions between the two leaders over Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan and a day after Biden touted Israel’s increased ties to its neighbors in an address to the General Assembly.
Following the meeting, the White House said that Biden “reiterated his concern about any fundamental changes to Israel’s democratic system, absent the broadest possible consensus,” and he also “emphasized the need to take immediate measures to improve the security and economic situation, maintain the viability of a two-state solution, and promote a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
“Today, we’re going to discuss some of the hard issues,” Biden said in remarks ahead of the meeting. “And that is upholding democratic values that lie at the heart of our partnership, including the checks and balances in our systems and preserving a path to a negotiated two-state solution and ensuring that Iran never, never acquires a nuclear weapon.”
In a briefing last week, national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that the leaders would “discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues focused on the shared democratic values between the United States and Israel and a vision for a more stable and prosperous and integrated region, as well as to compare notes on effectively countering and deterring Iran.”
In remarks before the meeting, Netanyahu said that he thinks under Biden’s leadership, the countries can “forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”
“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,” Netanyahu said, referring to the normalization of relations between his country and Saudi Arabia, which is something Biden has been pushing for.
Netanyahu’s comments came after Biden said he thought a planned “economic corridor” connecting India, the Middle East and Europe through rail and shipping lines, which he said will run through Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Israel, would have “enormous promise.”
“I think it’s a big deal, and we’re working on a lot more together,” Biden said.
That project, discussed at the G20 meeting of leading and developing nations earlier this month, is meant as a way to China’s influence among poorer countries.
Biden met at the White House in July with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who holds a largely ceremonial position, to discuss the Israel-Palestinian conflict and Iran’s nuclear program. A day before that meeting, Biden spoke on the phone with Netanyahu and called for “the need for the broadest possible consensus” in the debate over his judicial overhaul efforts, the White House said. Biden also “expressed concern” about settlement growth and reiterated a need to “maintain the viability of a two-state solution and improve the security situation in the West Bank.”
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, had previously said in July that Biden and Netanyahu would meet in the fall.
As Wednesday’s meeting began, Biden told Netanyahu, “I hope we will see each other in Washington by the end of the year,” according to the pool report. Following the meeting, the White House confirmed that Biden invited Netanyahu to visit D.C. before the end of the year.
During Tuesday’s speech to the United Nations, Biden praised efforts to create a more “integrated Middle East.”
“It demonstrates how Israel’s greater normalization and economic connection with its neighbors is delivering positive and practical impacts even as we continue to work tirelessly to support a just and lasting peace” between Israelis and Palestinians, Biden said.
Biden will also hold a bilateral meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva later Wednesday. The U.S. president will then participate in campaign receptions in the afternoon before departing New York for the White House in the evening.