President Biden told Israeli leaders on Tuesday that they were losing international support for their war in Gaza, revealing a growing rift with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has rejected out of hand the US vision of a resolution to the Gaza conflict. ‘after war.
Mr Biden delivered a blunt assessment of America’s closest ally in the Middle East at a fundraiser in Washington, where he described Mr Netanyahu as the head of “the most conservative government of Israel’s history”, which “wants nothing we are remotely close to a two-state solution” to the long-standing conflict between the country and the Palestinians.
The president said Israel has the support of Europe and much of the world as well as the United States, but added that “they are starting to lose that support because of the indiscriminate bombing that is taking place “.
The president’s remarks came hours after Mr Netanyahu pledged to defy weeks of US pressure to hand the Palestinian Authority responsibility for Gaza once the fighting ends. Mr. Netanyahu ruled out any role for the authority, which now governs Palestinian society in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Until Tuesday, the United States had largely supported Israel, both in action and in rhetoric – backing the assault on Gaza, rebuffing calls for a ceasefire at the United Nations and allowing the sale of thousands of tank shells to the Israelis.
“There is disagreement about the ‘morning after Hamas,’” Mr. Netanyahu said in a video statement posted on social media. He said he hoped the two governments could reach an agreement on what would happen after the war ended, but he vowed not to allow threats against the Israeli population to continue.
“After the great sacrifice of our civilians and soldiers, I will not allow entry into Gaza of those who educate terrorism, support terrorism and finance terrorism,” Netanyahu said. “Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan. »
Fatah is the rival political faction to Hamas that controls the Palestinian Authority, which was driven out of Gaza in 2007 but still administers parts of the West Bank.
In his remarks at the fundraiser, Mr. Biden pledged continued support for Israel’s efforts to protect itself, saying that “we’re not going to do anything but protect Israel in the process.” Not a single thing.
“Without Israel as an independent state, no Jew in the world is safe,” he added.
But he also outlined his response to Mr Netanyahu’s private assertion that the United States had “carpet bombed” Germany and dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.
“I said, ‘Yes, that’s why all these institutions were created after World War II, to make sure this doesn’t happen again,'” Mr. Biden told donors at the event .
Hours earlier, Mr. Netanyahu appeared to take note of the months of American support in his speech.
“I greatly appreciate American support for the destruction of Hamas and the return of our hostages,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “After intensive dialogue with President Biden and his team, we received full support for the ground incursion and blocked international pressure to stop the war. »
But the tone of both men suggested that these well-wishes might soon come to an end.
Mr. Biden’s remarks were the most critical yet of Mr. Netanyahu’s handling of the war, which continues to cost civilian lives in Gaza. The two men declared unwavering unity during Mr. Biden’s visit to Israel days after Hamas launched a surprise attack on October 7 and massacred 1,200 people.
Nearly two months of aerial bombardment by Israel and a continuing ground war have razed much of Gaza City, in the northern part of the small enclave, home to nearly two million Palestinians. More than 15,000 people, including several thousand children, have been killed in Gaza during the fighting, according to the territory’s health authorities.
The United Nations says more than 85 percent of the population has been displaced, with some humanitarian organizations reporting widespread disease and hunger.
Mr. Netanyahu says his government is determined to destroy Hamas’ ability to threaten the Israeli population and has repeatedly warned Palestinians to move south. Some localities in southern Gaza were also bombed, sparking criticism from humanitarian organizations.
Fighting between Israeli forces and armed groups raged near a small hospital in northern Gaza on Monday and over the weekend. Kamal Adwan Hospital has 65 patients, including 12 children in intensive care, and is surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks, according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The report said the hospital’s maternity ward was hit on Monday and “two mothers were reported killed and several people injured.” It was not possible to verify the toll. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Biden’s top aides said the president felt his wholehearted support for Israel had given him more leverage to pressure Mr. Netanyahu to show restraint as Israel wages its ground war in Gaza. He has repeatedly described his decades-long history with Israel; On Monday evening, he declared at a Hanukkah reception at the White House: “I am a Zionist.”
Last month, Mr. Biden and his top foreign policy aides helped negotiate a temporary pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and the release of more than 100 of the approximately 240 hostages captured by Hamas on October 7. .
White House officials said Mr. Biden would meet at the White House on Wednesday with the families of Americans taken hostage by Hamas, his first face-to-face meeting with the loved ones since the crisis began.
A White House official confirmed the meeting, but did not provide details on how many family members would attend the meeting in person. The president had already spoken with the families in a video call about a week after the attacks.
Biden administration officials said about eight U.S. hostages remained after several were released, including during a week-long pause in fighting last month.
Mr. Biden’s public message has evolved since the October 7 attacks. He has publicly urged Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza in its war against Hamas, and White House officials have said he has been blunt with Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials in private conversations .
But the president has largely left it to other U.S. officials, notably Vice President Kamala Harris, to denounce Israel for its actions on the battlefield. And his comments Tuesday were the president’s first direct acknowledgment of condemnation by world leaders and humanitarian organizations of Israel’s wartime behavior.
Using the prime minister’s nickname, Mr Biden said “Bibi has a difficult decision to make.”
The growing tension between the two men underscored the sensitive moment for both allies as Mr. Biden seeks to persuade lawmakers in Washington to support more than $15 billion in additional aid for Israel’s military campaign. That funding is currently caught in a political conflict with Republicans over aid to Ukraine and immigration policy changes at the U.S. border.
Mr. Biden has repeatedly asserted Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas terrorism, and his administration on Friday vetoed a legally binding United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire immediately in the war. On Tuesday, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a non-binding resolution making the same demand. The United States and Israel were among 10 countries that opposed it; 153 countries approved.
But on Monday, administration officials said they were investigating reports that the Israeli military deployed U.S.-supplied white phosphorous along the border with Lebanon, in violation of international law.
This allegation, made in reports by Amnesty International and The Washington Post, represented another potential disagreement between the two countries over Israel’s conduct. The Israeli military said Monday it was complying with international law and denied using the weapon illegally.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said the US would “ask questions” about the incident. White phosphorus is an incendiary and toxic substance used to create light and smoke screens during combat. Its use is not illegal, but its deliberate deployment against civilians or in a civilian setting violates the laws of war.
Eric Nagourney, Gaya Gupta And John Reiss reports contributed.