U.S. Refers to Palestinians After Delayed Netanyahu Call, Israel Does Not

President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared their first post-Inauguration Day phone call nearly a month after the 46th president was sworn in, and, while both sides' readouts were relatively vague, they differed on one crucial topic: the Palestinians.

The White House said Biden "underscored the importance of working to advance peace throughout the region, including between Israelis and Palestinians," but Netanyahu's office made no such reference to long-running dispute in its own account of Wednesday's call.

Both the U.S. and Israeli statements did mention the history of close bilateral relations between the two allies, as well as their shared concerns toward Iran and the series of Arab-Israeli peace accords championed under Biden's predecessor, former President Donald Trump, and known collectively as the Abraham Accords.

Biden was said to have "affirmed his personal history of steadfast commitment to Israel's security and conveyed his intent to strengthen all aspects of the U.S.-Israel partnership, including our strong defense cooperation."

"Together, the leaders discussed the importance of continued close consultation on regional security issues, including Iran," the White House readout said. "The President emphasized U.S. support for the recent normalization of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world."

The Israeli side echoed this section of the roughly one-hour call described as "very warm and friendly."

"US President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed the future advancement of the peace accords, the Iranian threat and regional challenges, and agreed to continue their dialogue," the Israeli Prime Minister's Office said.

israel, netanyahu, biden, press, conference
Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give joint statements to press in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on March 9, 2016. Biden has expressed criticism of Israel's annexation policies against Palestinian territory but has also censured Palestinian leaders for not condemning violence against Israeli civilians and security forces. DEBBIE HILL/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

While the delay in their conversation drew media attention—Netanyahu was the 13th leader to speak with Biden since he took office after the heads of Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Russia, Japan, South Korea, India and China—the discrepancy over a core issue signaled another potential difference in priorities.

The timing of Biden's call with Netanyahu as compared to other world leaders appeared to indicate that Israel was the top ally in what this U.S. administration considered the third-most vital foreign policy arena after Europe and East Asia. But whether the Israeli side's omission of the Palestinians specifically indicated this was not a top-level area of concern or agreement was unclear.

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

Mention of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute was also notably absent from Biden's debut foreign policy speech earlier this month, though it has come up several times in remarks by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

"The U.S. commitment to Israel's security is sacrosanct," Price said in a statement sent to Newsweek late last month. "We stand by the two-state solution because it is the best way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, while upholding the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations to self-determination in a viable, sovereign state of their own."

Biden and Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister at nearly 15 years between two non-consecutive terms, have a history of disagreement on the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While serving as vice president under former President Barack Obama, Biden criticized Netanyahu's annexation and settlement policies on land viewed internationally as part of the Palestinian territories. Diverging opinions on this issue and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, led to cool relations between the administrations of Obama and Netanyahu when the former left office in 2016.

A drastically different dynamic emerged when Trump came to office the following year and quickly aligned his administration closely with that of Netanyahu. Under Trump, the U.S. abandoned the nuclear agreement with Iran and granted generous concessions in the Arab-Israeli conflict such as recognizing the contested holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and endorsing Israel's occupation of Syria's Golan Heights.

Trump also severed diplomatic ties with Palestinian leadership and expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization's delegation in Washington. In his last year in office, Trump unveiled the "Peace to Prosperity" plan to address the ongoing Israel-Palestinian feud but the framework was immediately rejected upon arrival by both the left-wing Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority in charge of the West Bank and the Sunni Islamist Hamas-led government ruling the Gaza Strip.

Newsweek recently spoke with representatives of both rival Palestinian factions, who urged the Biden administration to reverse the course laid by his predecessor, as well as an Israeli official who said the country remained open to direct talks with Palestinian leadership, which was due to hold elections in May for the first time in 15 years.

Also tasked with mediation on the Israeli-Palestinian issue are the European Union, Russia and the United Kingdom, which, along with the U.S., form the Quartet on the Middle East.

The foursome engaged Monday "to discuss the latest political developments and situation on the ground" for the first time since Biden came to office and "agreed to meet on a regular basis to continue their engagement," according to U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland.