U.S. President Joe Biden lholds a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the 78th U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 20, 2023.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations summit Wednesday and agreed to work toward establishing diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The meeting marked the first time the two leaders have met since Netanyahu returned to power nine months ago. Israel and Saudi Arabia currently do not have official diplomatic relations. The president’s aim entering the meeting was to build a new rapport between the two countries’ leaders. Doing so, Biden said, would be a “big deal.”
Speaking before the meeting, Netanyahu said he thought so as well.
“I think that under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said.
“I think such a peace would go a long way for us to advance the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state and advance a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he continued.
A senior White House official told reporters after the meeting that the two leaders had a “very constructive, very candid” conversation but stressed there is a long way to go on normalization discussions.
In his opening remarks prior to the meeting, Biden hinted the judiciary changes would be on the list of topics discussed.
“Today, we’re going to discuss some of the hard issues — that is upholding democratic values that lie at the heart of our partnership, including the checks and balances in our systems and preserving the path to a negotiated two-state solution, and ensuring that Iran never, never acquires a nuclear weapon,” Biden said.
Netanyahu also addressed the chief issue in his opening remarks, affirming Israel’s commitment to democratic values.
“I want to reassert here before you, Mr. President, that one thing is certain, and one thing will never change. And that is Israel’s commitment to democracy,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to uphold the values that both our proud democracies cherish.”
The White House, in a statement after the meeting, said Biden “reiterated his concern about any fundamental changes to Israel’s democratic system, absent the broadest possible consensus.”
Netanyahu has not visited the Oval Office since his reelection. Israeli prime ministers are typically invited to the White House within their first year of the term. The White House, in a readout after the meeting, confirmed Biden extended Netanyahu an official invitation to visit Washington, D.C.