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Netanyahu Meets Biden in America: Unshakable Despite Differences

Netanyahu Meets Biden in America: Unshakable Despite Differences

After a long wait, Netanyahu met US President Biden at the UN General Assembly. Heads of state need each other politically.

US President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Jerusalem taz | No US head of state has waited so long for an Israeli head of government in decades: US President Joe Biden met with Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on Wednesday, nine months after he took office. Biden insisted he wanted to talk about “the democratic values ​​that underpin our partnership, including the separation of powers.” It was primarily the weakness of the judiciary pushed by Israel’s somewhat right-wing extremist government and the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank that led Biden to distance himself earlier this year.

In March, he expressed himself in unusually blunt terms regarding plans to overhaul the Justice Department: “You can’t go on like this.” In July, he added, the Israeli cabinet was “one of the most radical I have ever seen”. .” The meeting was now too late and not at the White House, but at the UN.

Netanyahu was also well aware of this and said early in the conversation: “Israel’s commitment to democracy will never change.” Regardless of Biden, he stressed the importance of a possible rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. “Mr. President, I believe that under your leadership we can create a historic agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu has also not escaped the nine-month-old mass protests against his government’s reform plans in New York. During the conversation with Biden, hundreds of people demonstrated in front of the hotel. “Save Israel’s Democracy,” their signs read. In view of the domestic political crisis that is testing Israeli society, about 70 percent of Israelis now favor a compromise.

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Biden needs a win

There is also much at stake in foreign policy. For Netanyahu, it was a shame not to receive a call from Washington. For Israel, rapprochement with the United States is fundamentally important. The tiny country receives billions in financial aid every year for its defense. Among other things, it co-finances the “Iron Dome” defense system that intercepts rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip or Lebanon. Given the relationship between the two countries, Biden made it clear that his commitment to Israel is unwavering despite “some differences.”

The U.S. president depends on the Israeli government for some of his foreign policy initiatives, such as next year’s U.S. presidential election to promote normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and so far Biden’s administration has shown little sign of that, says Yonatan Freeman, an expert in international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Biden needs a win. The default between Israel and Saudi Arabia tops the list. ” Israel normalized its relations with several Arab countries as part of the so-called Abraham Accords, brokered by Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

But in return, the Saudi government in Riyadh can expect promises from Israel to the Palestinians. It is not yet clear how Netanyahu intends to receive this from his anti-Palestinian coalition partners, such as Finance Minister Bezalel Smodrich or National Defense Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. They often reject any offers on this issue.

Just before the meeting, twelve members of parliament from his own Likud party warned in an open letter against making concessions to Riyadh. It’s one thing that Biden and Netanyahu are now a little closer to each other. What Israel’s head of government wants to take home with him — and what he can accomplish — is another matter.

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