Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett plans to urge US President Joe Biden to put pressure on Iran’s nuclear program and to shore up bipartisan support for Israel.
Bennett will meet with the US President for the first time since he took office, and told reporters that the President was “an old and true friend of the State of Israel.”
“There is a new administration in the US and a new government in Israel, and I am bringing with me from Jerusalem a new spirit of cooperation,” the 49-year old Bennett said.
Bennett wishes to move on from Netanyahu’s combative public style and instead manage disagreements constructively behind closed doors between Washington and its closest Middle East ally.
Ahead of the meeting, he said he will present Biden with “an orderly plan” to restrain the Iranians.
Advisors said Bennett had no plans to discuss resuming negotiations on a Palestinian state on territories Israel captured in 1967 – an issue on which Biden and Bennett are divided. Biden has renewed backing for a two-state solution, however, Bennett opposes Palestinian statehood.
“Two states is not relevant, not existent,” a senior official told reporters.
The consensus among Biden’s aides is that now is not the time to push for a resumption of long-dormant peace talks or major Israeli concessions, which could destabilize Bennett’s ideologically diverse coalition.
But Biden’s aides have not ruled out asking Bennett for modest gestures to help avoid a recurrence of the fierce Israel-Hamas fighting in the Gaza Strip that caught the new U.S. administration flat-footed earlier this year.
Among the issues that could be raised in the talks is the Biden administration’s goal of re-establishing a consulate in Jerusalem that served the Palestinians.
The administration has also emphasized that it opposes further expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land.
Dan Kurtzer, former US ambassador to Israel, told AFP that Bennett’s visit would set a new tone after 12 straight years of Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu believed that he knew better than the president with whom he was dealing, what the United States should do,” Kurtzer said.
By contrast, with Bennett, “even if there are differences on policy, which there will be, the two will be able to talk without this overlay of disrespect.”
Speaking to Secretary of State Antony Blinken Wednesday, Bennett said he hoped for “cooperation and goodwill” with Americans, primarily in “how do we fend off and curtail Iran’s pursuit to dominate the region and its race to a nuclear weapon.”
Israel fiercely opposes Biden’s attempt to reverse Trump’s withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
The two leaders are expected to speak briefly to a small pool of reporters during their Oval Office meeting but there will not be a joint news conference, limiting the potential for public disagreement.