20231804 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks a meeting with Xi. Image Credit: AFP

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he has received an invitation for an official visit to China, but did not disclose whether or when the trip would take place.

The Israeli leader made the announcement during a meeting with visiting members of the US Congress. The invitation follows several recent overtures by Beijing to increase its diplomatic footprint in the region and comes at a time of heightened friction between the Biden administration and Netanyahu's ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox government.

Netanyahu's office said the “projected visit” to China would be his fourth as prime minister. It said it notified the Biden administration, which has a rocky relationship with China, about the invitation last month. It declined to comment on possible dates for the trip.

China has taken a more strident role in Mideast diplomacy in recent months, brokering a deal to restore ties between Israel's archenemy, Iran, and Saudi Arabia in April and hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing earlier this month.

Israel and China have close economic relations, but Israel's diplomatic and security ties with the US have precluded closer collaboration with China.

Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, returned to power in late 2022 after forming a coalition with ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies, the most hard-line and religious government in Israel's 75-year history.

After launching an attempted overhaul of the country's judiciary in January while Netanyahu is on trial on corruption charges, the government has faced weekly mass protests as well as criticism from Washington.

In light of that contentious judicial overhaul, as well as the government's aggressive advancement of West Bank settlements, Netanyahu has not yet been invited for a White House visit. Such visits are normally standard practice for Israeli leaders.

Earlier this month, during Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Beijing, Xi proposed an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Chinese leader also said he was was willing to “play an active role” in facilitating peace talks over the Palestinian issue, which have been stalled since 2014, with no obvious political horizon for ending it.