Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday in an interview with ABC that U.S. President Joe Biden invited him to the White House in the fall, "probably in September." However, officials in Washington are refusing to confirm this invitation.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre declined to say whether Biden indeed extended a formal invitation to Netanyahu and also did not confirm the tentative date.
The White House's refusal comes against the backdrop of senior U.S. officials' estimation, suggesting that the coalition's unilateral advancement of judicial reform legislation is likely to delay the setting of a meeting date between Biden and Netanyahu - who have not met since Netanyahu returned to power last December.
The officials noted that the Biden administration does not trust Netanyahu, who, in their last conversation with Biden a week and a half ago, said he would make efforts to reach a broad consensus before legislation.
"The two have agreed to meet in the U.S. later this year. Their teams are working on the logistics and timing," said Jean-Pierre during the White House daily briefing. The White House National Security Council spokesperson also confirmed Netanyahu's statements.
Last week, a senior diplomatic source suggested that Netanyahu and Biden are not necessarily expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, but rather at the White House. According to the source, "Biden told Netanyahu several times that he looks forward to meeting him in the Oval Office." However, the White House has not confirmed the timing or the location of the meeting.
In the interview with ABC, Netanyahu was also asked about the relations between Israel and the United States in general, which he described as “very strong.”
Netanyahu's remarks come amid plans for a meeting between him and Chinese President Xi Jinping. On Wednesday, Netanyahu's office released a photo from his meeting with Chinese Ambassador to Israel Cai Run during which the Chinese diplomat delivered a signed book from President Xi Jinping.
Run informed Netanyahu that President Xi read with interest and appreciation the things written by the prime minister in his book about Israel-China relations. He also conveyed that President Xi looks forward to meeting Netanyahu in Beijing later this year.
Wednesday night, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre was asked if Biden truly "believes" Netanyahu, but she declined to answer directly, stating only that they "speak candidly with each other." She emphasized that the president and prime minister have a long-standing relationship, and they spoke candidly during their conversation last week. She refused to "go into details" about the leaders' relationship.
Biden hasn't hidden his reservations about the judicial reform Netanyahu is advancing, and he has urged him in their calls - as well as in public and somewhat exceptional statements - to refrain from one-sided legislation and seek broad consensus around the dramatic changes the government is promoting.
Over the past months, Biden reiterated his opposition to one-sided legislation and called for broad agreement, while occasionally delivering sharp messages against Netanyahu's government, which he referred to as the most extreme he has ever seen.
Until now, the American leader has refrained from inviting Netanyahu to the White House and instead extended an invitation to President Isaac Herzog.
American sources admitted to Reuters that the White House rejected efforts by Netanyahu's people to secure his visit, both out of concern for undermining Israel's judicial independence and due to the expansion of settlements.
In their latest call, Biden once again pressed Netanyahu to "slow down" the legislative process, but Netanyahu ignored his entreaties and advanced the repeal of the so-called reasonableness standard without any compromise with the opposition. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the person who assisted Biden in conveying his messages to senior officials in Israel, Ambassador Tom Nides, finished his term last week - and a new ambassador has yet to be appointed.