Biden finally hold talks on ‘hard issues’ with Netanyahu
US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to smooth over months of tensions as they met for the first time on Wednesday since the Israeli’s reelection in December.
The two leaders shook hands in front of US and Israeli flags at the start of the meeting, held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York after Biden withheld an invitation to the White House.
Biden said he would raise “hard issues” with Netanyahu including upholding democratic values, amid criticism of the hard-right Israeli government’s controversial judicial reforms.
They will also discuss an ambitious plan to normalize relations between Israel and its long-time foe Saudi Arabia, with Netanyahu saying a “historic peace” was now possible.
“Today, we’re going to discuss some of the hard issues, that is, upholding democratic values that lie at the heart of our partnership,” Biden told reporters at the start of the meeting.
The US president extended an olive branch by suggesting a meeting at the White House in the coming months, saying: “I hope we will see each other in Washington by the end of the year.”
Democrat Biden previously described Netanyahu’s hard-right government as “one of the most extremist” in Israeli history, and criticized plans for judicial reform that have sparked mass protests in Israel.
Ties have been further strained by the Israeli government’s expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.
– ‘Historic peace’ –
But both sides have been keen to smooth over a relationship that has seen the United States give long-term support for the Jewish state, its key ally in the Middle East.
“Even where we have some differences, my commitment to Israel, you know, is ironclad,” Biden said, adding that they would also discuss how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Biden has also been pushing Israel to agree to a coveted peace deal with Saudi Arabia.
“I think that under your leadership, Mr President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said.
“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.”
Relations between Netanyahu and the Biden administration have been rocky ever since the Israeli leader made his political comeback at the head of a coalition of hard-right and ultra-Orthodox parties in December.
Israeli artists and intellectuals including writer David Grossman recently wrote an open letter urging Biden not to meet Netanyahu — an issue for the Democratic president, who needs the liberal establishment onside ahead of elections next year.
In a seeming snub to Netanyahu, Biden in July hosted the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, a political moderate, in the Oval Office.
There was even a squabble earlier this year after Netanyahu said he had been invited to the White House — but the White House then said merely that the pair would meet “in the United States.”
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