Updated Mar 27, 2024 - World

In reversal, Netanyahu sending delegation to White House for Rafah talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with the German Chancellor after their meeting in Jerusalem on March 17, 2024.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Leo Correa/PoolL/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to send two top Israeli officials to Washington as early as next week for talks about a possible military operation in Rafah, four U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.

Why it matters: It's a sharp reversal by Netanyahu who on Monday canceled the same trip by the same people in protest over the U.S. not vetoing a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages held by Hamas.

  • The fallout over the canceled trip and a deadlock in hostage talks added to already spiraling relations between Netanyahu and the Biden administration.

Driving the news: "The Prime Minister's office has agreed to reschedule the meeting dedicated to Rafah," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday, adding that the discussions about Rafah are "urgent."

  • "We are now working on a convenient date that will work for both sides," she said.
  • Netanyahu is expected to send his close confidants Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.
  • Netanyahu's office said the prime minister hadn't approved the delegation's departure but didn't deny discussions are being held about it.

What they're saying: A U.S. official told Axios cancelling the trip and the rhetoric around it was "an unnecessary drama on Netanyahu's part."

  • A senior Israeli official agreed and said: "Bibi made a mistake."

The latest: On Wednesday, Netanyahu met with Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) in his office in Jerusalem and discussed the war in Gaza.

  • In a statement after the meeting, Netanyahu mentioned a new reason for canceling the Israeli delegation to the White House.
  • "My decision not to send the delegation to Washington in the wake of that resolution was a message to Hamas: Don't bet on this pressure, it's not going to work. I hope they got the message," Netanyahu said.
  • A senior U.S. official said that on Tuesday Netanyahu sent a similar message in private to the White House and said he didn't mean to pick a fight with Biden.
  • Some of Biden's senior advisers laughed when they heard Netanyahu's new stated reason for canceling the trip after the UN Security Council vote, the official said.

Behind the scenes: Two U.S. and Israeli officials said that on Sunday, before the vote at the UN, Dermer called President Biden's top Middle East adviser Brett McGurk and expressed alarm over the U.S. intention not to veto the resolution.

  • According to the U.S. official, the call got extremely heated with Dermer accusing the Biden administration of betraying Israel and threatening that Israel would "fight" the U.S. over the vote. But a second U.S. official said that description of the call wasn't accurate.
  • When Netanyahu announced the cancellation of the trip by his senior advisers in protest of the vote, the White House decided to hold similar discussions about Rafah with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who was already in Washington.
  • Gallant met with national security adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House on Monday and returned for another round of talks on Tuesday.
  • He also met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and CIA Director Bill Burns.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout with comments from U.S. and Israeli officials.

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