Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has many facades, depending on his audience. In New York, world leaders got to see Netanyahu the statesman, busy with reshaping the Middle East and working toward normalization with Saudi Arabia. Yet even at his best, Netanyahu could not make world leaders forget the far-right coalition he is leading, one that refuses to budge on anything related to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s people managed to schedule only five meetings with world leaders in advance — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol, and of course President Joe Biden. A few other meetings were organized on the spot.
Netanyahu did not get to meet Biden at the White House, as he had wished, only at the Intercontinental New York hotel. Even more telling, he did not meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, or British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. He did not meet with any of the leaders of the Abraham Accords countries, nor with the leaders of Egypt or Jordan. Was it because he had no good responses to questions they would have surely asked him?
In his statements when meeting the American and Turkish leaders, and even more so at his United Nations General Assembly address on Friday, Netanyahu gave the impression that normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia is just around the corner. Still, the statements made by Biden at the meeting and by senior State Department official Barbara Leaf at the Al-Monitor/Semafor Middle East Global Summit on Wednesday indicate that Netanyahu offered nothing new.