Biden will speak to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before he talks to other leaders in the Middle East, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. She just didn’t say when that would be.
“So let me first confirm for you that his first call with the leader in the region will be with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It will be soon,” Psaki said during the White House daily press briefing. “I don’t have an exact date for you, but it is soon. Stay tuned.”
Nearly four weeks have passed since Biden took office, and he has not yet spoken with the long-serving Israeli leader. The silence stands in contrast with Biden’s quick efforts to get in touch with European and North American allies, as well as some Asian partners and the leaders of Russia and China.
Israelis have noticed. “This is the issue that is obsessing every single Israeli who is perceiving with every passing minute the increasing slight, or worse,” Israel Policy Forum board Chairwoman Susie Gelman said during a Tuesday briefing on relations among the United States, Israel and the Palestinians.
“It has caused a lot of angst,” IPF policy director Michael Koplow agreed.
Psaki said last week that the lack of a presidential call was not a sign of disrespect to Netanyahu, although Israelis have widely interpreted it that way. Koplow and other analysts have said the delay appears intended to draw a clear contrast between Biden’s foreign policy approach and that of President Donald Trump, who was closer to Netanyahu than to any other world leader and proudly called himself the most pro-Israel president ever. Netanyahu bragged of an open line to the Oval Office.
Biden and Netanyahu know one another well. They spoke on the phone after Biden won the election in November, and Biden aides have been in contact with Israeli government officials since he took office.
Trump also prized his close relationship with Saudi Arabia, another important country whose leader Biden has not found time to call.
Biden has signaled his foreign policy priorities will be a rethinking of how the United States deals with China and a rebuilding of alliances shredded under Trump. Biden administration officials have also begun speaking with Palestinian officials — after a drought of more than three years without official contacts between Palestinian leadership and U.S. officials.
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