Israeli opposition leader Lapid to visit DC as Biden keeps Netanyahu waiting

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  August 29, 2023

Yair Lapid will hold high-level meetings with members of Congress and senior Biden administration officials in Washington.

Israeli opposition Leader Yair Lapid is set to travel to Washington next week for high-level meetings with members of Congress and senior Biden administration officials, several Israeli news outlets reported, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to wait for a meeting with US President Joe Biden.

The visit by Lapid will include meetings with US officials at the State Department, White House, and with members of Congress, according to the Jewish News Syndicate, which cited his office. Axios and Walla News correspondent Barak Ravid also reported that Lapid will be meeting with officials in the White House and State Department, citing a US official.

A State Department official told Middle East Eye that the department has “no meetings to announce at this time”. A spokesperson with the White House National Security Council also told MEE it had “nothing to announce”.

Ties between Biden and Netanyahu have come under some strain due to the Israeli prime minister’s contentious judicial overhaul, which is unpopular with many lawmakers in Biden’s Democratic Party. Lapid has staunchly opposed the contentious judicial overhaul

Amid mass protests over Netanyahu’s plans, Biden has become more vocal in critiquing the current Israeli government.

In an interview with CNN in July, he called Netanyahu’s cabinet the “most extremist” he has seen since he started working with Israeli prime ministers and said some members of Netanyahu’s government were part of the problem when it comes to the rising violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The two more far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, have so far been snubbed by the Biden administration.

But Israel is the United States’s closest Middle East ally and despite differences over the judicial overhaul, security and defence ties between the two countries have been unaffected. That was on display over the summer when Israel conducted a bloody raid on the Jenin refugee camp, which was met with a muted US response.

While Lapid has criticized the current Israeli government, deemed the most far-right in history, he supported the operation in Jenin, which was condemned by the United Nations.

Experts, including former senior US officials, told MEE that the administration’s response to the unprecedented use of sophisticated weaponry in the operation underscored the limited impact of recent American criticism. 

However, some Republican lawmakers have criticized the Biden administration’s move to roll back Trump-era policies that allowed for US funds for research, science and technology projects taking place in Israeli settlements. 

In July, fourteen Republican US senators said they would work to delay confirmation of State Department officials unless the Biden administration reverses its “antisemitic boycott of Israel”.

Biden extended an invite to Netanyahu to meet in July and earlier this month White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the two leaders would meet in the fall “somewhere in the United States”. However, it’s unclear whether that meeting will take place at the White House or a separate event such as the United Nations General Assembly in New York City later in September, which Netanyahu is slated to attend.

The meeting would come as violence in the West Bank rises amid a spike in deadly settler attacks and army raids against Palestinians.

According to a tally by MEE, at least 216 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, including 37 children. 

A total of 180 people have died in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making 2023 one of the bloodiest years in the occupied territory. Another 36 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Palestinians have killed at least 29 Israelis in the same period, including six children.