JERUSALEM—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received an unexpected invitation to the White House on Wednesday. The offer came during a working meeting between Netanyahu and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who was in Israel on a family visit for his son’s bar mitzvah.
During the meeting, Emanuel invited the Israeli PM to meet U.S. President Barack Obama after his upcoming trip to Canada.
“On behalf of the President—you will be in Canada, and he has asked me to extend an invitation to you to come visit him at the White House for a working meeting to discuss both our shared security interests as well as our full cooperation on seeking peace between Israel and its neighbors,” said Emanuel, according to the transcript published by the Israeli prime minister's office.
Emanuel, who has Israeli roots, said the trip to Israel was a meaningful one for himself and his children.
“It has been heartfelt and nothing more than a father could wish his son on his bar mitzvah, the way the Israeli people have treated him. Now if we could just get him to do his homework, we’ll be very happy,” said Emanuel.
In recent weeks, American special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, has been meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a round of mediation known as “proximity talks.”
The Obama administration had been working tirelessly to restart negotiations between the two foes. Those efforts may now be starting to bear fruit. The proximity talks are scheduled to last four months, with the hope of restarting direct negotiations as quickly as possible.
The surprise invitation to meet Obama was extended against a backdrop of what appears to be a warming of relations between the White House and Jerusalem.
Relations between the allies hit an all-time low in early March when a senior Israeli minister announced plans to build 1,600 new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem during a diplomatic visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The United States opposes expanding Jewish settlements in the east Jerusalem, which Palestinians wish to claim as their capital of a future independent state.
During Netanyahu's trip to the United States at the end of that month, he met Obama, but there was no photo-op or official statement, something unusual for a meeting at that level. Netanyahu was also reportedly left alone in a room, while the president went to have dinner with his family.
Wednesday’s invitation is a clear sign that relations are back on an upswing. Israel government officials have recently met with Jewish community leaders in the United States who also reportedly reaffirmed the strong alliance between the two nations.