At a moment the US is pushing hard for normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, President Joe Biden has finally and much belatedly issued a formal invitation for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House before the end of the year.
This means a White House trip for the Israeli PM will happen nearly a full year after his reelection to office, which has been seen in Tel Aviv as a bit of an insult.
Biden reportedly issued the invitation on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.
He told the press, “Today, we’re going to discuss some of the hard issues, that is upholding democratic values that lie at the heart of our partnership, including the checks and balances in our systems and preserving the path to a negotiated two-state solution, and ensuring that Iran never, never acquires a nuclear weapon.”
Netanyahu responded positively in the UN meeting with Biden: “I think that under your leadership, Mr President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“Such a peace would go a long way first 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,” the Israeli leader added.
Typically new Israeli leaders make an official trip to the White House within a mere weeks of being reelected, but Biden’s “snub” is being seen in reaction to the Netanyahu ruling coalition’s ultra-controversial judicial overhaul agenda, which will greatly weaken the independence of Israel’s judiciary. Biden addressed this in the meeting:
President Joe Biden raised “hard issues,” including protecting the “checks and balances” in a democracy, in a Wednesday meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pushing the Israeli leader to find a compromise on a judicial overhaul that has set off months of mass protests in Israel and concerns in Washington.
Biden also raised concerns about the far-right Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians, urging Netanyahu to take steps to improve conditions in the West Bank at a time of heightened violence in the occupied territory.
As for Saudi-Israeli normalization, in an interview published by Fox this week, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) said of ties with the Jewish state, “Every day we get closer.”
In exchange for pursuing a peace deal along the lines of the Abraham Accords, Riyadh is demanding Washington’s help in creating a Saudi civilian nuclear program. Importantly, it appears the Netanyahu government is willing to bless this…
“Netanyahu directed top Israeli nuclear and security specialists to cooperate with US negotiators… the clearest sign yet that the Israeli prime minister is willing to allow Saudi Arabia to advance its nuclear ambitions.” https://t.co/PD0BMBSLNT
— Gregg Carlstrom (@glcarlstrom) September 21, 2023
Interestingly, MbS also said in the Fox interview that Saudi Arabia will obtain a nuclear weapon if its number one regional rival Iran does so first. “If they get one, we have to get one,” MbS told Fox’s ‘Special Report’ anchor Bret Baier when asked what the kingdom would do if Iran builds a nuclear weapon.
Of course, that would greatly complicate the question of peace and normalization with Israel, which remains the region’s sole nuclear-armed power, though not officially and on a publicly disclosed level.