After ten months of an unofficial boycott, US President Joe Biden will finally welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a meeting tomorrow. Under normal circumstances, the meeting between the two should have taken place a few weeks after Netanyahu's return to office. But as we know, nothing in the time that has passed since then has been normal, including the American intervention in the internal Israeli debate over legal reform.
Protest activists projected protest graffiti on prominent sites in San Francisco ahead of Netanyahu's arrival || UnXeptable
And yet, here it is. Tomorrow, the two will meet for an hour at Biden's hotel in New York. The claim that Biden is trying to downgrade the meeting and therefore not holding it at the White House is incorrect. Anyone who has been to UN rallies in the past knows how tight the leaders' schedules are. It has happened in the past and will happen in the future that meetings take place in hotels, not in the White House. There is no story here.
Not a story. The White House, Photo: GettyImages
What there is is great sensitivity. This is how senior members of the entourage describe the situation. Ahead of the meeting, it is clear that Netanyahu and his people are making a supreme effort to avoid a clash with the administration. The proof is that Netanyahu did not tweet, literally, about the scandalous prisoner deal between Iran and the United States, which includes tacit understandings about uranium enrichment by the Iranians. In the past, he would beat such a development mercilessly. This time - quiet. Those close to him claim that the criticism is being reserved in case there is a full nuclear agreement between the sides, like that of 2015. The truth is that this sounds like a flimsy excuse, since a full agreement is not feasible.
There is something to talk about
What else is on the table? The arrangement with Saudi Arabia. The administration insisted yesterday that the chances of normalization still exist. In response to reports of Saudi Arabia's intention to slow down the pace of talks with Israel, the State Department's Near East Division announced that "the United States remains committed to promoting Israel's regional integration, including through active diplomacy aimed at Israeli-Saudi normalization. Talks are ongoing, and we look forward to further talks with both sides."
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit, photo: AP
The Saudi leaks are no coincidence, because with time and increasing expectations, it becomes harder to reach the destination. The leaders will devote considerable time to this. The two are also expected to deal with legal reform and the situation in Judea and Samaria. These are also controversial issues between the administration and the government, and both sides are making efforts to downplay it.
Amidst the chain of gaps and friction, there is one issue that both sides will resonate with – granting Israelis an exemption from entry visas to the United States. Biden was the one who instructed his people to grant this exemption during the previous government. On September 26, the race (attended by hundreds of people) will come to an end – and is expected to be finally approved. Netanyahu and Biden are expected to celebrate the moment the day after tomorrow, but not only. As reported by Israel Hayom, there are accelerated contacts between the White House and the Prime Minister's Office for another meeting between the two in a few weeks.
Controversial topic, demonstration against the legal reform, photo: Dudu Greenspan
Why is this happening? Because despite the differences of opinion on so many issues, Biden knows that Netanyahu has standing among Republican voters that he now badly needs. The president's position in the polls is not good. He needs every means to give him back support. Netanyahu, who is a well-known and popular figure in America, can help him with this. Therefore, the president and his people also have an interest in lowering the flames vis-à-vis Israel. Hence the talk of another meeting, this time at the White House.
Gas to Turkey?
Even before Biden, today Netanyahu will hold two significant meetings with colleagues from around the world that he will meet for the first time. He will first meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The main issue on the table of the two veteran leaders, who once clashed head-on, will be gas. Erdogan very much wants Israel to export the gas in its economic waters to Europe. The decision will not be made so quickly, but it will have significant geostrategic implications.
Gas issue in focus, Erdogan, photo: AP
Later, he will meet with Volodymyr Zelensky, who is expected to be the central figure at the UN General Assembly. Netanyahu will arrive at Zelensky empty-handed. In other words, he is not expected to announce new Israeli aid to a country under Russian boot attack. The political leadership believes that Israel is giving enough to the Ukrainians. And here you have another gap between Israel and the United States.
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