There was an unusual delay ahead of the closed-door meeting, which focused on the Iranian threat, Saudi-Israeli normalization, the Palestinian issue and judicial reform.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday in what was the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Netanyahu was re-elected nine months ago.
The leaders said in public remarks ahead of their closed-door meeting at Manhattan’s InterContinental Hotel that they would focus on the Iranian threat, Saudi-Israeli normalization, the Palestinian issue and Israeli judicial reform.
"I hope we will see each other in Washington by the end of the year," Biden told Netanyahu.
The U.S. president added that the two would discuss “hard issues,” such as upholding “democratic values” and “checks and balances,” which was "a seeming nod to the prime minister's recent judicial overhaul proposal," per the pool report. Biden added that Iran can never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.
"Israel has an absolute commitment to democracy. I believe that under your leadership, it is possible to reach an unprecedented agreement with Saudi Arabia," Netanyahu told Biden. "I hope we can get some things settled today."
‘The first event of the day’
According to pool reports, the White House provided no explanation for the delay, which turned out to be 30 minutes, ahead of the slated meeting. “It is the first event of the day, and yet we are, remarkably, already quite behind schedule,” per the pool.
The pool added that Biden ignored shouted questions "about whether he feared for the future of democracy in Israel and what the Palestinians would need to achieve in a normalization deal," as he and Netanyahu left to hold their private meeting.
The premier began his first trip to the United States since being voted back into office last November with a visit to California on Monday, where he met with X (formerly Twitter) owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk at the electric vehicle company's plant in Fremont.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, landed in New York early Tuesday morning to participate in this week's gathering of world leaders for the U.N. General Assembly's annual general debate.
Since his arrival, Netanyahu has also met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Paraguayan President Santiago Peña.
U.S. officials told Axios last week that an internal debate occurred in Biden's political circle regarding whether he should meet Netanyahu at the White House or in New York, with some supporting the Oval Office setting and others pushing for a sit-down at the United Nations.
‘Not to be sidetracked by domestic politics’
Last Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Netanyahu to inform him that Biden's schedule would only allow for a meeting in New York.
Opponents of Netanyahu's government gathered outside the InterContinental Hotel on Wednesday morning, with simultaneous protests taking place near the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and the American consular building in Tel Aviv.
In a letter sent ahead of the meeting, the Israel Defense and Security Forum (IDSF), an NGO made up of thousands of former Israeli defense and security service officers, called on Biden "not to be sidetracked by the spillover of Israeli domestic politics" and to "allow our democratic process to run its course without external influences, including those of well-intended friends."
"It would be a shame for the U.S. and for Israel if strategic opportunities to advance our interests in the region were to be squandered as a result of political diversions and provocations," stated the IDSF.
Meanwhile, 12 lawmakers from Netanyahu's Likud Party warned the prime minister against making concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for normalization with Saudi Arabia.
"We will agree to peace only in exchange for peace," the MKs wrote in a missive that was signed by, among others, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuli Edelstein and former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon.
"We give you our backing to present a strong position ahead of your meeting with the U.S. president and world leaders that Israel stands by its rights irrespective of attempts to make peace with Arab nations," said the letter.
Later on Wednesday, Netanyahu will meet with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Yoon Suk Yeol, the president of South Korea.
Netanyahu is slated to address the U.N. General Assembly on Friday. The prime minister will remain in New York over Shabbat, flying back shortly before the start of Yom Kippur on the evening of Sept. 24.