WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Monday invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with him in the U.S. this fall, the White House said, even as he expressed ongoing concern about Netanyahu's controversial plans to overhaul his country's judicial system.
Monday's phone conversation between the U.S. and Israeli leaders came one day before Israel's figurehead president Isaac Herzog is set to visit to the White House and as Netanyahu's government pushes forward with the judicial changes that have sparked widespread protest in Israel.
The Biden administration declined to say whether Biden would host Netanyahu at the White House — as the Israeli leader has hoped — or in New York on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly.
White House visits are typically standard protocol for Israeli prime ministers, and the delay in Netanyahu receiving one has become an issue in Israel, with opponents citing it as a reflection of deteriorating relations with the U.S.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Biden again on Monday expressed concern to Netanyahu over the judicial plan — as he did when they last spoke earlier this year — and urged the “broadest possible consensus” over the legislation that has been pushed by Netanyahu and his hard-line coalition.
Netanyahu and his allies, a collection of ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist parties, say the plan is needed to rein in the powers of unelected judges. Opponents, who have held months of large-scale protests across Israel, say the plan will destroy Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances and move the country toward authoritarian rule. Herzog has appealed for a compromise that has thus far proven elusive, as many American Jewish groups and Democratic lawmakers have expressed concerns about the plan.
Kirby said during the call Biden also expressed his “ironclad, unwavering commitment” to Israel's security and that the two leaders discussed Iran's nuclear program and regional security issues. Biden also “expressed concern” over Israel's continued settlement growth in the West Bank and urged Israel to take steps to preserve the viability of a two state solution with Palestinians.
Biden, Kirby said, also welcomed steps by the Palestinian Authority to reassert security control in Jenin and other areas of the West Bank and moves by Israel and Palestinians to move toward another round of direct talks.
During his visit, Herzog is set to meet with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Congressional leaders, and will become the second Israeli president, after his father Chaim Herzog, to address Congress to mark Israel's celebration of its 75th year of independence.