A senior Israeli political official said Wednesday in a press briefing after the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden that the private conversation between the two leaders lasted about an hour, and focused on "promoting peace and containing Iran." The White House said that Biden invited Netanyahu to Washington, and clarified his concern about the lack of broad consensus over changes to the judicial system.
According to the source, the conversation dealt with the promotion of a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia "in detail," and they agreed to continue dealing with the issue in the work teams of both countries.
"The conversation was warm and friendly, between two friends who have known each other for 40 years," according to the source, in the shadow of the tension felt in the joint statement and the fact that the two did not meet for more than nine months after the establishment of the current government.
The source noted that the subject of the judicial overhaul came up during the private conversation. "Netanyahu said that the direction is to reach a consensus with parts of the opposition, or with the public," said the senior political official. "Biden asked about the reform, but did not give his opinion." The White House announced after the meeting that Biden stressed “his concern about any fundamental changes to Israel’s democratic system, absent the broadest possible consensus."
However, at least according to the Israeli source, "the main part of the conversation dealt with the question of how to promote the normalization and peace agreement with Saudi Arabia. Not if, but how. We went into a lot of details. There is a desire to overcome the obstacles and we do it by working together. There is no other way." He added that "there is an absolute unity between the positions of Israel and the US in relation to the issue of civilian nuclear power in Saudi Arabia."
The White House in its readout of the meeting said that Biden invited Netanyahu to visit the White House before the end of this year.
The White House also addressed the growing tensions in the West Bank. "The President emphasized the need to take immediate measures to improve the security and economic situation, maintain the viability of a two-state solution, and promote a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. To that end, President Biden called on all parties to fulfill their commitments made during meetings held earlier this year in Aqaba, Jordan and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to include refraining from further unilateral measures," according to readout. It also noted that Netanyahu and Biden will consult with the various countries and entities in the region to convene another summit like the ones held earlier this year in Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba.
Visa for Israelis - by the end of the month
The senior political official added that "the prime minister thanked the president for the planned visa exemption for Israelis, and it should be carried out. The Americans are supposed to announce it toward the end of the month. On September 28, the decision will be published, and the day before Secretary of State Antony Blinken is supposed to give it to the Secretary of Homeland Security. Israel has met all the required conditions and we believe it will happen."
The senior political official also referred to Netanyahu's unusual statement that normalization with Saudi Arabia would help promote peace with the Palestinians"We are discussing these issues. Netanyahu told Biden that the Palestinians are part of the process - but they will not have a veto over it," the official said. The source added that Israel is working toward "an agreement that both countries can live with and pass the threshold of maintaining Israeli security. On the nuclear issue, we see eye to eye, both on what we agree on and on what we don't."
The political official emphasized that "the Palestinian issue is one of the difficulties on the way to an agreement. There is a goal here that three countries - Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia - want to reach. There is a great desire, but in the end it rises and falls on the small details - the process should be done discreetly, on several levels at the same time, against the backdrop of the question of whether it will promote security and the economy. The US wants there to be peace in the region and Israel is also interested in that. Iran is a party that is not interested in this peace, and Netanyahu pointed this out to President Biden, who is aware of its attempts to set the region on fire."
However, the political source said that Netanyahu is not considering changes in the composition of the government if there is an agreement with Saudi Arabia - even though his partners Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich oppose the concessions that Riyadh demands on the subject of the Palestinians. "Anyone who wants to join the government is welcome. But not at anyone's expense," the official said.
The source noted that, contrary to the claims against Biden, "he was completely sharp" in the meeting with Netanyahu."
At the same time, the senior political official also referred to Netanyahu's meetings with billionaire Elon Musk, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky. The source stated that "the most important thing in Netanyahu's meeting with Musk was the fact that he is "willing to make investments in Israel in a practical way. This is very great news for the Israeli economy and the State of Israel."
The senior official also said that Netanyahu and Zelensky spoke at length about Israel's continued assistance in the field of civil defense. "The meeting was positive," he said. "All of Israel's considerations were clarified. The prime minister did not smear anyone, he told the truth: 'I can help up to this limit'. There is sincerity among the leaders, they do not try to sell what cannot be sold."
Regarding Netanyahu's first meeting with Erdogan in several years, the senior political official said that it focused on the issue of energy. "Netanyahu told Erdogan that the option of establishing a gas pipeline to Turkey is being considered, but no decision has yet been made," the official said.