Talks on the White House between United States President Joe Biden and Israeli President Isaac Herzog have focused on Iran, the Israeli government said on Wednesday, as its military engaged in a crackdown on Palestinian groups within the occupied West Bank.
In remarks to reporters before the meeting in Washington, DC, the 2 leaders didn’t mention Palestinians despite mounting tensions and violence, especially within the West Bank city of Nablus, where six Palestinians were killed this week.
As a substitute, Herzog invoked the crackdown on anti-government protests in Iran as he sat next to Biden within the Oval Office.
“That is an example of Iran crushing their very own residents while moving forward towards nuclear weapons and supplying lethal weapons that’s killing innocent residents in Ukraine,” Herzog said. “I believe the Iranian challenge will likely be a serious challenge to be discussed.”
In a press release describing the talks, the White House said afterward Wednesday that Biden “emphasized the importance of taking steps to deescalate the safety situation within the West Bank”.
After the meeting, the Israeli president said in a press release that the 2 leaders discussed “mainly the problem of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons”.
While Tehran denies pursuing a nuclear weapon, Israel has continued to oppose diplomatic efforts between the US and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that saw Iran reduce its nuclear programme in exchange for international sanctions relief.
Israel, certainly one of 4 countries that usually are not signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is widely believed to own a covert nuclear arsenal.
The Israeli president, who serves in a largely ceremonial role, noted on Wednesday that the US and Israel will hold crucial legislative elections next month, saying the partnership between the 2 countries “transcends all political differences and opinions and parties”.
For his part, Biden reiterated pro-Israel statements that he has repeatedly used during his decades-long political profession. “Were there not an Israel, we’d need to invent one,” he said ahead of the meeting.
He also stressed the “ironclad” US commitment to Israel and highlighted a recent, Washington-brokered agreement to attract everlasting maritime boundaries between Israel and Lebanon.
Advocates questioned why Biden, who had promised to place human rights on the centre of US foreign policy, didn’t bring up recent Israeli abuses against Palestinians in his comments to reporters ahead of the talks with Herzog.
“While the Israeli military invades Palestinian neighborhoods and brutally kills Palestinian people, continuing Israel’s decades-long violent colonialism, President Biden couldn’t spare a single comment concerning the Palestinian people in his remarks to the media today,” Sana Siddiq, an advocate with the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told Al Jazeera in a press release.
“His callous disregard for Palestinian human life as he cozies as much as apartheid Israel is shameful,” she said.
In line with the White House statement, Biden stressed his support for the two-state solution and said he “underlined the necessity to take continued steps to enhance the lives of Palestinians, that are critical to peace, security and prosperity” in his discussions with Herzog.
Since taking office, the US president has pledged to deepen US military and diplomatic support for Israel.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration refrains from criticising Israeli rights violations against Palestinians, including the expansion of settlements within the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – territories that may be home to a future Palestinian state.
The White House as an alternative has focused on regional “integration”, advancing a vision of the Middle East where Arab countries cooperate militarily and economically with Israel to ward off perceived common threats, namely Iran.
On Wednesday, Herzog also mentioned Israel’s partnerships within the region before and after the meeting with Biden.
“We discussed the combination and inclusion of Israel within the region and the potential of doing so many great things with our neighbors in the assorted Arab states around us,” he said in a press release.
The Israeli president also cited the upcoming COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt as a possibility to push towards that goal.
“The climate change challenge can function a typical denominator for therefore many countries and likewise between Israel and the USA,” Herzog told reporters on the White House.