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Netanyahu to meet Musk, Erdogan, Zelenskyy, Biden — but no White House visit

The Israeli prime minister and the US president will most likely come face to face on the sidelines of the UN meeting in New York.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Elon Musk

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed to Al-Monitor Thursday that he will meet with Elon Musk, owner of the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), on Monday in Silicon Valley, before heading to New York for the annual UN General Assembly meeting. Netanyahu also confirmed that he will meet with US President Joe Biden in New York, though no date was given.  

Netanyahu is set to depart for the United States Sunday at midnight, arriving in San Francisco early Monday morning. After spending the day discussing high technology and AI, Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to New York, where he will address the General Assembly, apparently on the morning of Friday, Sept. 23, and meet with world leaders. 

A statement issued Thursday evening by the office of Netanyahu said the Israeli premier will meet in New York with Biden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 

It is no secret that Netanyahu was hoping for a meeting at the White House, not on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, but evidently, that is not going to happen. 

Musk: Netanyahu’s expected meeting with Musk comes amid accusations leveled against the entrepreneur of amplifying anti-Semitism on X and a feud between Musk and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), one of the oldest Jewish organizations fighting anti-Semitism and advocating human rights. 

Last May on X, Musk sent a series of tweets targeting the Hungary-born philanthropist George Soros that the Israeli Foreign Ministry characterized as “antisemitic-toned.” On Sept. 4, Musk accused the ADL of “trying to kill” the platform with false allegations of anti-Semitism. Since then, leaders of the Jewish organization and executives at X have traded barbs, with Musk accusing the ADL of largely being responsible for the platform's 60 percent drop in advertising revenue.

Netanyahu and Musk previously met in 2018, when the CEO of Tesla visited Israel. At that time, Netanyahu declared Musk “a man of vision, perhaps the greatest technological visionary of our time. He is a genius.”

In a joint effort to calm tensions, Musk and Netanyahu spoke by phone in early June. Netanyahu stated afterward that Musk is “a person whose intelligence and contribution to humanity I greatly appreciate,” adding that Musk “expressed his view that Israel could become a significant global player in the field [of AI].” 

Ynet quoted Musk as saying that his meeting with Netanyahu had been set weeks ago and that they will discuss AI, not the ADL affair.

Biden: Netanyahu and Biden have not met since Netanyahu took office nine months ago. In Israel, that has been perceived as criticism of the hardline government's effort to overhaul the judicial system and its settlement construction policies. 

Earlier this week, Axios confirmed N12's report of a Netanyahu-Biden meeting in New York rather than in Washington. According to Axios, the US decision was made “after a long internal debate over political optics and foreign policy considerations.” The decision is an embarrassment to Netanyahu, especially after the White House welcomed Israeli President Isaac Herzog in July. Axios also reported that a Biden-Netanyahu White House meeting could take place later this year.

Asked about a Biden-Netanyahu conversation, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, “I have no meetings to speak to at this point.” 

According to the newspaper Israel Hayom, the two leaders will convene on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

Erdogan: The Israeli leader had been scheduled to travel to Turkey in July, for what would have been the first such visit since 2008, but Netanyahu had to postpone the trip to have a pacemaker implanted. 

Relations between Israel and Turkey deteriorated considerably in 2010, when the Israel Defense Forces killed nine Turkish nationals on the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla on a humanitarian mission to Gaza. In the past two years, however, the two countries have improved ties, with President Isaac Herzog traveling to Ankara in March 2022 for a much-publicized visit.

Diplomats told Al-Monitor that a meeting between Netanyahu and Erdogan in New York would not be in place of a rescheduled visit by the Israeli prime minister to Ankara, but in addition to it.

Zelenskyy: Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Evgen Korniychuk announced last week that Netanyahu will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy in New York, a meeting now confirmed by the Israeli side, but no exact date was given. 

The two leaders spoke by phone on Sept. 7, trying to patch up their countries' strained relations. Kyiv is disappointed over Israel’s refusal to supply it with weapons in its fight against Russia and is also frustrated by Israel's treatment of Ukrainian refugees and tourists. Netanyahu, on the other hand, is under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties to facilitate travel to Ukraine this week by thousands of Hassidim to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslow ahead of the Jewish New Year, celebrated Sept. 16-17.

Ukraine had invited Netanyahu to visit Kyiv when Foreign Minister Eli Cohen traveled to the Ukrainian capital earlier this year, but so far, no plans have been made, adding to the Ukrainian leadership's frustration.

Diplomatic priorities: One of the Netanyahu government's diplomatic priorities is expanding the “circle of peace,” namely, adding more Muslim and Arab countries to the Abraham Accords and deepening Israel’s relations with Africa. These priorities could translate into Netanyahu holding meetings with Arab and African leaders in New York at the United Nations. 

Efforts to expand the countries with which Israel has normalized relations, especially Saudi Arabia, would top the agenda of Netanyahu’s meeting with Biden, should one take place. Another topic of discussion would most likely be Iran, including negotiations with Tehran on a new nuclear deal, which Israel opposes, and warnings by Israeli intelligence of increased efforts by Tehran to aid attacks against Israelis and Jews, including on the West Bank. 

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