Netanyahu rival to meet with VP Harris in White House as US grows impatient with Israeli prime minister

A top Israeli minister and political rival of Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Washington this week for a series of meetings that have already earned a stern reprisal from the Israeli prime minister.

Benny Gantz is set to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Monday while also holding meetings with top congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. The official agenda for his meeting with Ms Harris differs little from the readouts of Mr Biden’s own past interactions with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

But it’s Mr Gantz’s status as a centrist rival to Mr Netanyahu in the latter’s coalition government that has caused his trip to DC to rankle the prime minister and his allies. Mr Netanayhu himself issued a stern rebuke on a phone call with Mr Gantz this weekend, according to media outlets, while ordering officials with the Israeli embassy in Washington not to join the former defence minister for his meetings.

One source close to the prime minister was quoted by multiple media outlets as saying that Mr Netanyahu had “made it clear to Minister Gantz that the State of Israel only has one prime minister”.

The White House has only said that Ms Harris "will reiterate civilian casualties must be reduced” and confirmed that the two will discuss a political future for the Palestinian people; US officials have not yet commented on the internal divisions clearly tested by this visit or whether the Biden administration was attempting to send a message by having high-ranking officials meet with Mr Gantz. The minister’s visit comes as the president is reported to be feeling increasingly frustrated with Mr Netanyahu and his handling of the Israeli military’s assault on Gaza, where staggering numbers of civilians are dying to Israeli strikes and famine.

Mr Gantz has not commented publicly on his most recent dispute with his political rival.

The Biden administration is facing growing and intense criticism from progressives in his party over the issue of Israel’s military response to the deadly 7 October terrorist attacks in Gaza. A number of Americans are thought to still be held hostage by Hamas militants in Gaza, and the shocking civilian toll of the Israeli assault has led to a growing contingent of Democrats, including some on Capitol Hill, to call on Mr Biden to force Israel and Hamas to reach a lasting ceasefire agreement. The president and his White House staff have fought back against that pressure, but are seeking to do so without alienating those same Democrats ahead of a tough reelection battle this fall — almost certainly against Donald Trump.

At some recent events, Mr Biden and other members of his administration including most recently first lady Dr Jill Biden have faced interruptions from protesters demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.