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Biden refuses to extend invitation to Netanyahu to visit US

By Sarah May
|
March 29, 2023

Though he was sworn in for another stint as Israeli prime minister late last year, it was confirmed this week that Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet received an invitation to the White House, according to Reuters, and President Joe Biden noted this week that no such gesture is likely to be forthcoming in the “near term.”

The situation underscores reported tensions between the Biden administration and Netanyahu over issues ranging from a controversial plan to reform the Israeli judiciary and escalating hostilities with the Palestinians.

No invitation imminent

Biden spoke to reporters on Tuesday and said, according to the Washington Examiner, that there are no immediate plans to host Netanyahu at the White House and also urged the prime minister to work toward a compromise regarding the aforementioned judicial overhaul that has sparked protests across Israel.

The president's indication that Netanyahu would not be welcomed for an official visit any time soon stood in apparent contradiction of a statement earlier in the day from U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, who suggested to Israeli army radio that an invitation might be extended after Passover, as Axios noted.

Nides later tempered that statement by noting that no date has been set for any such visit, and a National Security Council spokesperson also confirmed that no plan for Netanyahu to head to the White House is currently in place.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre weighed in on the matter Monday, expressing approval of a decision from Netanyahu to temporarily pause the judicial reform plan, saying, according to the Examiner, “We welcome this announcement as an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise. A compromise is precisely what we have been calling for.”

Judicial reform plan spurs tensions

The most recent flashpoint between Biden and Netanyahu stems from the latter's plan to initiate an overhaul of the Israeli judiciary which would have afforded his coalition government full control over judicial appointments, provide parliament with the ability to overturn Supreme Court rulings, and implement limits on judicial review of measures passed by the legislature, as the Associated Press noted.

Opponents in Israel have warned that the reforms would hand Netanyahu's government control over what has been an independent judiciary and eliminate the country's system of checks and balances, also noting that the prime minister has a blatant conflict of interest with regard to the judicial system, given that he is currently on trial for corruption.

The specter of the overhaul produced massive unrest in cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba, and Jerusalem, with universities and unions vowing to launch a general strike and reservists in the Israeli army hinting at a revolt many feared could put the country's national security at risk.

Late on Monday, Netanyahu responded to the growing tumult over the plan by announcing a monthlong delay in the overhaul, noting his desire to “avoid a civil war” and pledging to seek compromise with the opposition, as the Associated Press noted separately.

Biden elaborates

Commenting further on the strife in Israel stemming from the proposed judicial overhaul, Biden told reporters Tuesday, “I hope [Netanyahu] walks away from it,” as the Jerusalem Post noted.

“Like many strong supporters of Israel, I am very concerned. I am concerned that they get this straight,” Biden continued.

Suggesting that his position has been firmly communicated to Netanyahu, the president added, “They cannot continue down this road. I have sort of made that clear.”

“Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he will try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen,” Biden added, before declaring that he had no intention of hosting Netanyahu in D.C., at least anytime in the near future.

Netanyahu responds

The Post noted that it did not take long for Netanyahu to respond to Biden's expressions of rebuke, with the prime minister beginning by noting, “I have known President Biden for over 40 years, and I appreciate his longstanding commitment to Israel.”

“The alliance between Israel and the United States is unbreakable and always overcomes the occasional differences between us,” Netanyahu continued. “My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus.”

With that said, however, Netanyahu emphasized, “Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.”

Nides, for his part, attempted to tamp down suggestions of a serious rift between the administration and Netanyahu, saying, “[w]e spend an enormous amount of time every day talking to the PM's office, and they talk to our office,” claiming, according to the Post that the relationship is “akin to a family connection.” However, the White House refusal to host Netanyahu has clearly raised eyebrows and will likely continue to do so until an invitation is extended.