WASHINGTON, PALESTINOW.COM — The White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the US President Joe Biden’s first call with a leader in the Middle East will be with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
“His first call with a leader in the region will be with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Psaki said, as questions rose in the media as to why the two haven’t had their traditional first phone call since the inauguration over three weeks ago.
Psaki told reporters the call will be “soon,” but said she could not provide an exact date. “Stay tuned,” she said.
She added, “Israel is of course an ally. Israel is a country where we have an important strategic security relationship, and our team is fully engaged — not at the head of state level quite yet, but very soon, but our team is fully engaged, having constant conversations at many levels with the Israelis.”
Psaki also said Biden has no plans to invite foreign leaders to the White House in the near future.
“It will be a couple of months before the president has an in-person or invites a foreign leader to meet in person here at the White House,” she said, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Psaki’s remarks came after Netanyahu has denied that Biden was intentionally excluding him, saying he has a “very strong” working relationship with President Biden, but there’re some differences over Iranian and Palestinian issues.
He told Channel 12 News, “He’ll call. We have had very strong friendly relations for nearly 40 years, dating from the time I came to Washington as an Israeli diplomatic representative and he was a young senator from Delaware.”
He added, “We also have many things we agree on and the alliance is very strong. But there are also differences, on the issue of Iran and on the Palestinian issue as well.”
This came after former Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon urged Biden to call the leader of “the closest ally of the US.”
Danon wrote on Twitter that Biden had called world leaders from different countries, including Canada, the UK, France, India, Germany and Japan.
“Might it now be time to call the leader of Israel, the closest ally of the US? The PM’s number is: 972-2-6705555,” Danon added.
@POTUS Joe Biden, you have called world leaders from#Canada#Mexico#UK#India#France#Germany#Japan#Australia#SouthKorea#Russia
Might it now be time to call the leader of #Israel, the closest ally of the #US?
The PM’s number is: 972-2-6705555 pic.twitter.com/OYgPvVga6F
— Ambassador Danny Danon | דני דנון (@dannydanon) February 10, 2021
Former Israeli consul-general in New York Dani Dayan said he interprets the issue “as a clear sign of displeasure.”
Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Center Washington DC, said Danon’s atypical Twitter overture to Biden stemmed from the unusual nature of relations between the two countries, in which the US treats Israel like a “spoiled child”.
“It’s behaviour typical of a brat,” Jahshan told Middle East Eye(MEE).
“When you don’t get your way – even on minor things – you feel like it’s a zero sum game. That’s the only way to put this type of complaint in context.”
“The Israeli media, particularly the liberal media, is using it to tweak Netanyahu, to tease him,” Jahshan told MEE. “And that is embarrassing on the domestic scene… Before the elections, they are basically trying to portray Netanyahu as having messed up the special relationship with the United States.”
Former President Donald Trump called Netanyahu on January 22, 2017 – two days after being sworn in – and invited the Israeli premier to the White House. The paid had a “warm conversation”, according to a statement by the Israeli government.
Jahshan meanwhile noted that there may be some tensions in the relationship between Biden and Netanyahu, as in 2010, Israeli occupation announced a major settlement expansion in East Jerusalem during a visit by President Biden.
The move was seen as a personal insult to Biden, who denounced it in uncharacteristically stern terms for a US government public statement concerning ‘Israel’.
“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden said in a statement during his visit.
“The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”
Jahshan said the Israeli decision at the time was a “spit in the face” to Biden’s efforts to revive peace talks.
“He hasn’t forgotten the mistreatment that he has received from Netanyahu before, there is no doubt about it.”