WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - Benjamin Netanyahu is still not receiving a warm welcome at the White House after his third term as Israel's prime Minister. This indicates that the United States is unhappy with the right-wing policies of Netanyahu's government.
According to a Reuters review, most new Israeli leaders had already visited the United States or met with the president by the time they assumed their positions. This was based on official visits that date back to the late 1970s. Only two of the 13 former prime ministers who headed a new government waited more.
The White House declined confirmation that Netanyahu had been invited. A spokesperson for the State Department referred Reuters directly to the Israeli government in order to provide information on the prime minister's travel plans.
"The message they want to send is: If your policies are objectionable, you don't have the right to sit down at the Oval Office," said David Makovsky (a former senior adviser to Special Envoy for Israeli–Palestinian Negotiations), now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Protestors have gathered in Israel's streets since the beginning of the year to protest the government’s plans to limit the power of Israel's Supreme Court. Critics claim that this removes any check on the governing coalition.
The right-wing government's authorization of settler outposts in the West Bank and the inflammatory comments made by a member Netanyahu's cabinet responsible for Jewish settlements has drawn criticism from U.S. officials. Lloyd Austin was there during his visit to Israel last Wednesday.
The United States has been Israel's principal benefactor for many years, contributing more than $3B annually in military aid.
President Joe Biden has known Netanyahu since the 1970s. They have also spoken on the phone and high ranking officials from both countries have visited Israel since December's formation of Netanyahu's government despite Israel's political crisis spiraling.
The absence of a White House visit highlights both the desire for the Biden administration see different policies in Israel as well as what critics call a reluctance of Biden to take greater force.
Statements by the United States on Israel are often filled with 'frustrating boilerplate language', according to Sarah Yerkes, a senior associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who used to work at the State Department for policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.
Yerkes stated that it was frustrating to see the lack of teeth in U.S. responses.
"They don't get the same kid gloves they've always received because... they're on a path to not being democracy anymore.
A senior State Department official stated that the Biden administration values quiet conversations more than public criticism, particularly when it comes down to the Israeli judicial reform crisis.
"Anything we might say about the specific proposals has potential to be deeply contraproductive," the official stated. He added that the goal was to encourage Israel’s leaders to reach consensus on reforms rather than being prescriptive as to what should happen.
Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that he hopes that the administration will continue to send a clear message about Israel to all members.
Murphy stated, "I would like to see the administration send a strong message that we must continue our support for a Palestinian state in the future and that the Netanyahu government's decisions are greatly compromising that future."
In a separate letter, 92 progressive legislators warned Biden that the judicial reform could give Israel the ability to annex the West Bank. This would "undermine the prospects of a two-state resolution and threaten Israel's existence [a Jewish and democratic] state."
Since 1989, when Secretary of State James Baker advised Israel against any moves towards annexing Palestinian territory or expanding settlements, U.S. leaders rarely criticize Israeli policies. After he had criticized U.S. policies toward Israel, Baker banned Netanyahu from the State Department as a deputy minister for foreign affairs.
Biden, a Democrat, who calls himself a Zionist, claims that the U.S. supports Israel 'ironclad.
Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Middle East peace negotiator, said that Biden's personal instincts make it very difficult for him not to take a tough stance towards Israel.
"He would prefer to have all of the Middle East in one place so that he can concentrate on Russia, Ukraine, and China. The Middle East is a powerful force that can be imposed upon us unless we take the initiative to manage the environment.