Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday with U.S. President Joe Biden in New York City, an invitation the embattled Israeli leader has eagerly awaited many months since his return to power late last year.
Both leaders arrived at the hotel on Fifth Avenue where the meeting took place rather than in the White House, a long-standing traditional gesture extended by American presidents to incoming Israeli leaders. Meanwhile, the two were met with a crowd of hundreds of protesters opposing the Netanyahu government's planned judicial overhaul.
The invitation for a meeting had been delayed for an extended period due to the American leader's concerns over far-right elements in Netanyahu's government, as well as ongoing mass protests related to judicial reform.
Netanyahu and Biden held a public meeting in front of reporters, before asking the media and their teams to leave the room for their one-on-one meeting.
Biden opened the public meeting by reflecting on his longstanding friendship with Netanyahu and outlined key agenda items, including the development of an economic corridor linking India to Europe via the Middle East, as well as both nations' "ironclad commitment" to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Netanyahu argued such a corridor "will make Israel a very important hub on a highway of unprecedented prosperity."
The conversation then pivoted to Washington's ongoing efforts to mediate a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Biden spoke with assured optimism about the ongoing negotiations, adding a touch of humor inspired by his Irish heritage.
"I suffer from an oxymoron of Irish optimism," he said. "If you and I, 10 years ago were talking about normalization with Saudi Arabia, I think we’d look at each other like, ‘who’s been drinking what?’”
"Good Irish whiskey," Netanyahu quipped.
"Under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia that would bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict," Netanyahu told Biden, expressing hope to also advance peace with the Palestinians and "make a better future for the region and beyond."
The Likud leader assured Biden of his steadfast commitment to maintaining Israel's democratic values.
“During these rapidly changing times, I want to reaffirm here one thing that is certain, one thing that will never change is Israel’s commitment to democracy,” Netanyahu said, adding "We will continue to uphold the values both our democracies cherish."
The two leaders and their respective delegations proceeded to a different room for the closed part of their meeting.
As the reporters being herded from the room, several Israel-related questions were shouted at Biden and Netanyahu. Then the US president turned to Netanyahu and said: "Surprised they haven’t asked me about the auto strike. They usually ask about things that have nothing to do with what we’re talking about."
The United Auto Workers union in the US has entered its fifth day of a strike against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.
As the meeting took place inside the hotel, hundreds of people demonstrated outside. The demonstrators carried Israeli flags and disrupted the interview of the ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, using airhorns and drums. At the same time, protests also took place outside the US embassy buildings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.