Israel-Hamas War: Is there a growing rift between Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu? Explained

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President
Image Source : AP Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Joe Biden

As the Israel-Hamas war entered its third month, the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip and the rising death count of Palestinians seems to be leading to a widening rift between allies that were considered the closest – US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The United States, Israel’s staunchest ally in the war, is facing growing international isolation as countries push for an immediate ceasefire.

Despite the international sentiment moving away from Israel as the death toll of Palestinians crossed 19,000, Netanyahu has pledged to continue fighting until Hamas is completely eliminated from Gaza. The complex relationship between Biden and Netanyahu came to light in an unusually sharp rhetoric by the former – who said that Israel is losing international support due to “indiscriminate bombing”.

Biden and Netanyahu have not exactly been the best of buddies, at least not to the extent of the relationship between the Israeli PM and former US President Donald Trump, whose pro-Israel stance was lauded by the Netanyahu administration. The two leaders have had their share of disagreements in the past, but the widening rift over the war against Hamas has thrown this relationship into sharp detail.

What did Biden say about Netanyahu?

Speaking at the White House recently, Biden recalled his relationship with Netanyahu, whom he calls by his nickname ‘Bibi’. Biden said that he made an inscription on an old photograph of the two men, where he wrote, “Bibi I love you but I don’t agree with a damn thing you had to say.”

“It’s about the same today,” said the US President, referring to the devastating situation in Gaza and global calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities. In an unusually harsh tone, Biden called Netanyahu’s government, which contains mostly far-right leaders, the “most conservative” in the country’s history and also suggested that the Israeli PM should change his government.

India Tv - Biden and Netanyahu have expressed different opinions over a post-war Gaza.

Image Source : APBiden and Netanyahu have expressed different opinions over a post-war Gaza.

He specifically singled out far-right leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has long opposed the two-state solution for a Palestinian state, a position countries like the US, India and China have long proposed. “You cannot say no” to a Palestinian state, “that’s going to be the hard part”.

After a phone call with Biden on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that there was a “disagreement” between the two close allies over “the day after Hamas”, in reference to the US position that Israel must not govern Gaza. However, like before, he had decided to continue the assault in Gaza despite international pressure to wipe out Hamas.

“After the great sacrifice of our civilians and our soldiers, I will not allow the entry into Gaza of those who educate for terrorism, support terrorism and finance terrorism. Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan,” said Netanyahu, asserting that he will not allow Israel to “repeat the mistake of Oslo”, the peace accords signed in the US in 1993.

Why are Biden’s remarks important?

Biden’s sharp remarks for Netanyahu come as he himself is facing increasing criticism over his support to Israel in the war, both from the public as well as members of his own Democratic Party. Other Western governments are also seeking a break in the relentless Israeli attacks that have crippled the medical system, impeded the facilitation of humanitarian aid and displaced the majority of the 2.3 million population in Gaza.

On Tuesday, three governments closely allied with the West – Canada, Australia and New Zealand – broke away from their previous positions on the Israel-Hamas war and backed a “sustainable ceasefire” in the besieged territory. “We are alarmed at the diminishing safe space for civilians in Gaza. The price of defeating Hamas cannot be the continuous suffering of all Palestinian civilians,” said the three Prime Ministers.

Shortly afterwards, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres introduced a rarely-invoked resolution in the Security Council demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, which was vetoed by the US, garnering intense criticism from other countries. The 193-member UN General Assembly introduced a non-binding resolution that was passed with 153 members in favour, including India.

Most importantly, Biden’s remarks indicate signs of a crack in his previous strong support for Israel against the Gaza-based militant group. Although Biden had been critical of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition in Israel before the October 7 attack, he expressed steadfast support for the Jewish state as the war progressed, rejecting any UN resolutions against Israel for “not mentioning the terrorist attacks by Hamas”.

The US had already called on the Israeli administration to do more to protect civilians after a week-long pause in fighting, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken quipped that “there was a gap between Israel’s intent to protect civilians” and what was happening on the ground. The US and Israel are also at a crossroads with who rules post-war Gaza, as Netanyahu rejected the authority of the US-backed Palestinian Authority.

Have Biden and Netanyahu clashed before?

The decades-long relationship between Biden and Netanyahu has often been strained, as the US President said on Tuesday. Although Biden is a longtime supporter of Israel, the two leaders have often sparred over a range of issues, going back to the US nuclear deal with Iran during the Obama administration.

The two leaders have known each other since Netanyahu was Israel’s Ambassador to the UN and Biden was a young Senator in the US Congress. US-Israel relations came close to a full-blown crisis when Netanyahu strongly opposed the nuclear deal with Iran, as Israel considers Tehran to be a major threat. Netanyahu even supported Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal in 2018.

However, Biden maintained that he still remains friends with the Israeli leader. This year, tensions again resurfaced when Biden criticised Netanyahu’s plan for a judicial overhaul, which sought to curtail the powers of the Supreme Court and led to massive protests across Israel. “I’m very concerned. And I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road,” he said in March.

In response, Netanyahu accused Biden of interfering in Israel’s political matters and said that the country makes its decisions by “the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including the best of friends”. After this confrontation, Biden did not invite Netanyahu in the White House for several months till September.

US plans for the Israel-Hamas war

As the situation worsens in Gaza, the Biden administration on Thursday asked the Israelis to end the large-scale offensive in the Gaza Strip and move towards a precise operation against Hamas. “I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives, not stop going after Hamas but be more careful,” said Biden on Thursday.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met Netanyahu on Thursday, where he discussed moves to shift Israel’s attacks on Gaza to lower-intensity operations focusing on high-value targets of Hamas. However, he did not provide a specific timeline for such operations and said that Israel is expected to continue its campaign for the time being.

He also held detailed discussions about getting the remaining hostages out of Gaza, and that there was a broad agreement that the future of Gaza would be Palestinian-led in the meeting with Netanyahu, according to officials. Israeli defence officials also spoke on  “the extraordinary efforts that they are undertaking to try to separate the civilian population from Hamas”.

ALSO READ | US urges Israel to end large-scale ground war to focus on ‘targeted operation’ against Hamas as deaths rise

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