Biden And Netanyahu Rift Opens: How U.S./Israel Divisions Over War With Hamas Went Public Tuesday

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President Joe Biden delivered some of his most pointed criticism yet of Israel on Tuesday when he warned the country it was losing support globally, as tension has been mounting between the allies for weeks.

Biden said Israel is “starting to lose that support” from the international community that existed in the immediate aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, specifically pointing to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to agree to allow the Palestinian Authority—which opposes Hamas and oversees parts of the West Bank—to govern Gaza when the war between Israel and Hamas ends.

Netanyahu has expressed doubts about the Palestinian Authority’s ability to ensure Gaza is “demilitarized” and “deradicalized,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press last month, calling for a “different authority” to govern Gaza and expressing the need in other interviews for Israel to maintain an “overall security responsibility” over the region to ensure Hamas terrorists are kept at bay.

Speaking in broad terms about the Israeli government, Biden said Tuesday that Netanyahu “has to change this government,” calling it “the most conservative government in Israel’s history,” while specifically mentioning its divisive national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Tuesday’s statements follow similar comments from Biden on Monday at a White House Hanukkah reception, where he said the U.S. and Israel “have to be very careful” in their handling of the war moving forward, warning “the whole world’s public opinion can shift overnight,” and adding, “we can’t let that happen.”

The Biden administration, which expressed staunch support for Israel in the days after Oct. 7, has ramped up its critical rhetoric in recent weeks, not only surrounding Israel’s post-war plans, but also about hostage negotiations, violence toward Palestinians from Israeli settlers in the West Bank and concerns Israel is not doing enough to mitigate a growing Palestinian death toll, which surpassed 18,000 this week, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

In an earlier display of the brewing tensions, Biden said some of the tasks he’d asked Netanyahu to complete were “taking a little longer than I had hoped,” he told reporters on Nov. 9 as Israel was negotiating a temporary cease-fire with Hamas in exchange for the release of hostages.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also expressed concerns about settler violence during his meeting with Netanyahu last month, and underscored the need for “more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians,” including designated safe zones for civilians in Gaza, Blinken told reporters after the meeting.

Despite expressing some frustration with Israel’s handling of the war, the Biden administration has remained supportive of Israel’s continued counterattacks on Hamas, continued to sharply condemn the acts of terrorism against Israel and has kept open lines of communication with the Israeli government.

“We have an opportunity to begin to unite the region,” Biden said Tuesday. “You can not say no to a Palestinian state . . . that’s going to be the hard part [for the Israeli government].”

This is not the first time Biden has had bumps in his relationship with Netanyahu. Recalling one of those moments during Monday’s White House reception, he repeated a story he’s told previously about gifting Netanyahu a photo during Biden’s time as senator scrawled with a note that read, “Bibi, I love you, but I don’t agree with a damn thing you had to say,” Biden quipped, adding “it’s about the same today.” Former President Barack Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu was acrimonious at times. As vice president, Biden expressed “overwhelming frustration” with Netanyahu’s administration and its resistance to a two-state solution, Biden said in 2016.

Ben-Gvir, who was elevated last year to his position overseeing Israel’s police force and prison system as part of a coalition deal Netanyahu struck to win reelection, is the far-right leader of the nationalist Jewish Power political party. Ben-Gvir has been arrested hundreds of times and convicted for crimes including inciting racism against Arabs and supporting a since-dissolved radical Orthodox terrorist group known as Kach.

Biden has faced backlash from the progressive wing of his party as he’s refused to back growing calls for a permanent cease-fire in the war, maintaining his stance that doing so would embolden and empower Hamas. The U.S. helped broker a temporary cease-fire last month that led to the release of 105 hostages, but the pause ended when Israel accused Hamas of failing to meet the terms of the deal that required it to release all women being held. The Biden administration has made clear it is closely eyeing Israel’s war tactics and has expressed the need for continued humanitarian support for Palestinians in Gaza, while continuing to sharply condemn Hamas. “Hamas to this day continues to hold women, elderly people, civilians in significant numbers . . . so we believe that Israel has the right to defend itself,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Tuesday.

38%. That’s the share of Democrats who think Biden has shown too much support for Israel, representing a 10-point increase from October, according to a Sunday CBS News/YouGov survey.

Sullivan will travel to Israel this week to meet with the Israeli war cabinet and discuss “the timetable of this war,” he said Tuesday. Biden on Wednesday will meet with families of American hostages taken by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack in which about 1,200 people were killed in Israel.

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