President Biden will meet with President Isaac Herzog of Israel at the White House on Tuesday, a diplomatic overture to one of America’s key allies amid tensions between the Biden administration and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.
White House officials described the meeting with Mr. Herzog as an opportunity for Mr. Biden to strengthen an already “ironclad” relationship between the two countries. They said the two leaders would discuss preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon as part of what the White House called its “unwavering commitment” to Israel’s security.
But the statements of mutual respect masked tensions between the two governments that have grown in recent years as Mr. Biden has grown increasingly frustrated with Mr. Netanyahu’s positions on Israeli settlements and efforts to overhaul the nation’s judicial system.
On Monday, Mr. Biden ended months of delay by offering Mr. Netanyahu a formal visit to the United States. After the pair spoke on the phone, Mr. Biden invited the prime minister to meet in the United States, most likely before the end of the year – though not necessarily at the White House.
Tuesday’s visit by Mr. Herzog, whose position in the Israeli government is largely ceremonial, could be an opportunity for Mr. Biden to express his commitment to the Middle Eastern country without delivering the political benefits of a White House visit to Mr. Netanyahu. .
Israel is a central US ally in the Middle East and a recipient of billions of dollars in aid each year. White House officials said Mr. Biden plans to emphasize areas of cooperation, including progress toward normalizing relations with other Middle Eastern countries and diplomatic efforts with the Palestinians.
Some supporters in the United States consider Mr. Herzog, who opposed Mr. Netanyahu nearly a decade ago, a bridge-builder whose efforts to find a middle ground in Israel’s tense political climate are a welcome change from some of the more extremist elements of the country’s government. .
But even before Tuesday, his visit had generated controversy. Several liberal lawmakers said they would boycott Mr. Herzog’s planned speech to Congress on Wednesday to protest Mr. Netanyahu’s government.
Earlier this month, Mr Biden called Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet “one of the most extremist” he had seen in decades of foreign policy engagement with Israel – effectively acknowledging the anger among many progressives with the prime minister’s policies.
White House officials said that on Tuesday, Mr. Biden will raise his concern about the Israeli government’s expansion of settlements, which the administration considers an obstacle to an eventual two-state solution, with a Palestinian state next to Israel.
Officials said Mr. Biden would also express to Mr. Herzog his discomfort with Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to make changes to the judicial system that critics say would undermine the power of Israel’s Supreme Court.
“We want to see Israel be as vibrant and viable a democracy as possible,” said John F. Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council. “And that means you build programs and reforms and changes in a way that’s based on compromise.”
But officials also said the president’s meeting with Mr. Herzog in the Oval Office would try to underscore the history of friendship that has characterized the relationship between the two countries since Israel’s creation.
“As Israel celebrates its 75th anniversary, the visit will highlight our enduring partnership and friendship,” a White House statement said. “The two leaders will discuss opportunities to deepen Israel’s regional integration and create a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.”