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Biden invites Israel’s Netanyahu to White House (Update)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses joint news conference with U.S. President Trump at the White House in Washington

US President Joe Biden, after a lengthy delay, on Monday invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States for an official visit at a date to be determined, the White House and prime minister’s office said.

Biden had held off extending the invitation out of concern about a judicial overhaul undertaken by Netanyahu and his right-wing government as well as Israeli settlement activity on the occupied West Bank.

Biden extended the invitation during a phone call between the two leaders, a day ahead of a visit to Washington by Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

The US House of Representatives and Senate have invited Herzog, whose position as head of state is mostly ceremonial, to address a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, but some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have signaled that they might not attend the event.

A senior Biden administration official said the two leaders had agreed to meet “later this year in the United States.” Whether the meeting would take place at the White House was unclear.

Netanyahu returned to power more than six months ago, but Biden had pointedly declined to issue an invitation until long after most Israeli prime ministers would have made the visit.

Amid escalating West Bank violence, the Israeli government’s actions authorizing settler outposts and inflammatory comments from a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet had drawn criticism from US officials, including Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin during a visit to Israel in March.

The Israeli statement said Netanyahu told Biden he would try to form a “broad public consensus” for an overhaul that critics say would strip its highest court of much of its power. The legislation has prompted anti-government protests in Israel for months.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Biden remains concerned about the judicial overhaul and “some of the extremist activities and behavior by some members of the Netanyahu cabinet.”

“Those concerns are still valid. They’re disturbing,” he said.

“We want to see Israel be as vibrant and as viable a democracy as possible and that means that you build programs and reforms and changes in a way that is based on compromise and … the broadest possible consensus across the governing organization.”

Biden and Netanyahu also discussed efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear program, Kirby said, and Biden stressed the need to pursue a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians and to boost security on the West Bank.

The two leaders shared a “long and warm” conversation, the Israeli statement said, focused on curbing threats from Iran and its proxies and strengthening the alliance between the two countries.

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