President Joe Biden, after a lengthy delay, has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States for an official visit later this year, the White House and the prime minister’s office said.
Biden had held off extending the invitation out of concern about a judicial overhaul undertaken by Netanyahu and his right-wing government and Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Biden extended the invitation on Monday during a phone call between the two leaders, a day before Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Washington, DC.
The US House of Representatives and Senate have invited Herzog, whose position as head of state is mostly ceremonial, to address a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday. But some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have signalled that they might not attend the event.
A senior Biden administration official said Biden and Netanyahu had agreed to meet “later this year” in the US. Whether the meeting would take place at the White House was unclear.
Netanyahu returned to power more than six months ago, but Biden had pointedly declined to issue an invitation until long after most Israeli prime ministers would have made the visit.
Amid escalating Israeli attacks in the West Bank, the Israeli government’s actions authorising illegal settler outposts and anti-Palestinian comments from a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet had drawn criticism from US officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a visit to Israel in March.
The Israeli statement said Netanyahu told Biden he would try to form a “broad public consensus” for a planned overhaul that critics say would strip its highest court of much of its power. The legislation has prompted anti-government protests in Israel for months.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Biden remains concerned about the judicial overhaul and “some of the extremist activities and behaviour by some members of the Netanyahu cabinet”.
“Those concerns are still valid. They’re disturbing,” he said.
“We want to see Israel be as vibrant and as viable a democracy as possible and that means that you build programmes and reforms and changes in a way that is based on compromise and … the broadest possible consensus across the governing organisation.”
Biden and Netanyahu also discussed efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear programme, Kirby said, and Biden stressed the need to pursue a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians and to boost security in the West Bank.
The Israeli statement said the two leaders shared a “long and warm” conversation, focused on curbing threats from Iran and its proxies and strengthening the alliance between the two countries.