Israel has disputed a White House claim that Benjamin Netanyahu “surprised” the Obama administration by cancelling a planned visit to Washington, putting more strain on their troubled ties in advance of a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden.
Netanyahu’s office says he was invited to address the pro-Israel group AIPAC but decided not to travel to Washington at the height of US presidential primaries.
On Tuesday, the PM’s office said that Israel’s ambassador to the US had informed the White House last week there was a “good chance” Netanyahu would not make the trip.
A statement later confirmed that the Israel PM will not be visiting the US but appreciated Obama’s willingness to host him.
The statement added that one of Netanyahu’s reasons for not travelling to Washington was his reluctance to be drawn into the US presidential campaign, where candidates have been vying to assert their bona fides as friends of Israel.
A White House spokesperson said on Monday that Israel had requested a meeting and two weeks ago, Netanyahu was offered the March 18 date.
It was added that the Israeli PM had turned down the meeting.
The US-Israel relations are yet to recover from deep differences over last year’s US-led international nuclear deal with Iran.
With violence surging for the past five months, US officials have said no peace breakthrough is expected during Biden’s visit.
In total, 183 Palestinians, 28 Israelis, an American, a Sudanese and an Eritrean have died in a wave of attacks since October 1.
Israelis say most of the Palestinians were killed while carrying out alleged knife, gun or car-ramming attacks.
Others were shot dead by Israeli forces during clashes or demonstrations.
Netanyahu has hailed Biden’s visit as a sign of Israel’s “strong relations” with the US.