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White House unwilling to invite Netanyahu to DC over concerns with Israeli government policies

'As long as I don’t visit there, nobody does,' the prime minister reportedly told his ministers

Likud Head Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a plenum session at the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, Dec. 19, 2022. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Although Benjamin Netanyahu has been the prime minister of Israel for almost three months, no invitation from the White House appears to be forthcoming, as the United States remains concerned about the Israeli government’s policies.

According to Reuters, most new Israeli prime ministers have received an invitation to the White House at this point in their tenure. The White House declined to confirm whether Netanyahu has yet to be invited, according to Reuters.

The lack of an invitation reportedly has angered Netanyahu, who, according to Israel’s Channel 12, instructed his Cabinet ministers not to travel to the United States and to stay clear of U.S. government officials if they do travel, until U.S. President Joe Biden invites Netanyahu to the White House. 

“As long as I don’t visit there, nobody does,” Netanyahu reportedly told his ministers. 

The only exception to that rule, according to the Channel 12 report, is Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, former ambassador to the U.S. and Netanyahu’s most important contact with the Biden administration. 

According to David Makovsky from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Biden administration is withholding the invitation to send a signal to Netanyahu about their objections to his policies. 

“The message they clearly want to send is: If you pursue objectionable policies, there’s no entitlement to the Oval Office sit-down,” Makovsky said.

The Biden administration is not only concerned with the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plans, but also with its settlement policies in Judea and Samaria, including the authorization of settler outposts. There has also been strong U.S. criticism of members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, especially with regards to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s statement about “wiping out” the Palestinian town of Huwara – a statement Smotrich later withdrew and apologized for and which State Department spokesperson Ned Price called “disgusting.”

Despite the lack of an invitation, experts do not believe there is a risk of Biden and Netanyahu’s relationship deteriorating as they have known each other for decades and have been in touch by phone since Netanyahu took office. In addition, senior officials from both countries have made visits to the other country frequently, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who visited Israel only last week. 

“Biden’s own personal instincts are such that it’s very difficult for him to want to adopt an extremely tough posture towards Israel,” said Dennis Ross, a veteran U.S. Middle East peace negotiator who is now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He would prefer to have the Middle East in a box so he can focus only on Russia, Ukraine and China. Unfortunately, the Middle East has a way of imposing itself, unless we initiate enough to try to manage the environment.” 

On the other hand, there are Democrats who would like the Biden administration to send even stronger signals to the Israeli government, including Chris Murphy, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I would certainly like to see the administration to be sending a strong signal that we have to maintain our support for a future Palestinian state and the decisions that the Netanyahu government are making now greatly compromise that future,” Murphy said.

In contrast, an unnamed senior State Department official said the Biden administration prefers to avoid public criticism of Israel’s government, especially about the judicial overhaul. 

“Anything that we would say on the specific proposals has the potential to be deeply counterproductive,” the official said, adding that the administration prefers to encourage Israeli leaders to find consensus about the overhaul, instead of telling them what they should do.  

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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