President Biden has decided to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly — not at the White House — after a long internal debate over political optics and foreign policy considerations, according to three U.S. officials.
Why it matters: The expected meeting in New York next week will be the first in-person between Netanyahu and Biden since the prime minister returned to office nearly nine months ago — a highly unusual delay considering the close alliance between the U.S. and Israel.
The big picture: Netanyahu has been pushing through a judicial overhaul opposed by many Israelis, American Jews, Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration, who fear it will undermine Israel’s democracy.
Behind the scenes: Netanyahu, who was frustrated and embarrassed that he hadn’t been invited to the White House, pressed the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Michael Herzog, to get him a meeting with Biden, according to two Israeli officials told Axios.
A long debate ensued inside the White House about how to choreograph the meeting, with some of Biden’s advisers supporting a meeting at the White House and others pushing for a meeting in New York, according to three U.S. officials.
Between the lines: The White House has not officially confirmed the meeting in New York. The three U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the issue say several factors other than Biden’s schedule have played a role in the decision.
A third U.S. official said some of Biden’s advisers who objected to an Oval Office meeting believed it would send the wrong signal about what the president thinks about the judicial overhaul and the Netanyahu government’s policies.
State of play: The Israeli Supreme Court on Tuesday held its first hearing in the appeal against the first judicial overhaul legislation passed by the Knesset several weeks ago.
What’s next: U.S. officials told Axios the White House told Netanyahu’s aides the prime minister will be invited to Washington at a later stage this year.