Biden and Netanyahu's visions collide to end the war between Israel and Hamas

Washington (AFP) – President Joe Biden And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu He finally spoke on Friday after a stark gap of nearly four weeks in direct communications, during which key disagreements over the potential path to establishing a Palestinian state once the fighting in Gaza ended.

Biden and his top aides have stifled Netanyahu with strong support, even in the face of global condemnation over the mounting civilian death toll and human suffering in Gaza as the Israelis carried out military operations in the wake of the October 7 attack on Gaza. Israel.

But the relationship between the leaders became increasingly evident Signs of stress As Netanyahu did He was rejected repeatedly Biden's calls for Palestinian sovereignty epitomize what the US president believes is the key to achieving lasting peace in the Middle East – the elusive, oft-cited two-state solution.

Neither side shows signs of budging.

The phone call on Friday came one day after Netanyahu said he had told US officials in clear terms that he would not support the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of any post-war plan. For his part, Biden confirmed in a phone call on Friday his commitment to working to help the Palestinians move towards establishing their state.

“As we talk about post-conflict Gaza… you can't do that without also talking about the aspirations of the Palestinian people and what that should look like for them,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The leaders spoke frequently in the first weeks of the war. But the regular rhythm of calls between Biden and Netanyahu, which had Hot and cold relationship For more than three decades, it has slowed dramatically. Their 30-40 minute call on Friday was their first conversation since December 23.

Both sides are besieged by internal political considerations.

The gap between Biden, a center-left Democrat, and Netanyahu, who leads the most conservative government in Israel's history, has widened as pressure mounts on the United States to use its significant influence to pressure Israel to end a war that has already resulted in deaths and injuries. About 25 thousand Palestinians.

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There is also growing impatience with Netanyahu in Israel due to the lack of progress in the prisoner release process Dozens of hostages are still being held By Islamic militants in Gaza.

“There is definitely cause for concern,” says Eitan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. “The more we see political considerations dominating the relationship between Biden and Netanyahu, the more likely it will deteriorate.” Continuing due to the upcoming presidential elections and the weakness of both leaders, the more we see them disintegrate.

In their recent calls, Biden's frustration with Netanyahu became more apparent, though the US leader was careful to reaffirm his support for Israel at every step, according to US officials who requested anonymity to discuss private interactions between the leaders.

However, Biden, at least publicly, has not given up on the idea of ​​beating Netanyahu. When a journalist asked on Friday whether a two-state solution was impossible while Netanyahu was in office, Biden replied: “No, it is not.”

Aides insist that Biden understands the political box Netanyahu finds himself in with his hard-right coalition, as he deals with persistent corruption accusations that have left the prime minister fighting for his freedom, not just his political future.

Meanwhile, Biden faces American voters in November, in a potential rematch with former President Donald Trump. Netanyahu and Trump formed a close relationship during the Republican's term in office. Biden faces criticism from some on his left who believe that he did not pressure the Israelis hard enough to show restraint while they carried out military operations.

Prominent Democratic lawmakers, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, warned this week that Netanyahu's position on statehood could complicate negotiations in the Senate over a spending package that includes military aid to Israel.

Expect Netanyahu to “use every trick at his disposal to hold his coalition together, avoid elections, and play around the clock,” said Michael Koplow, chief policy officer at the Israel Policy Forum. “And I'm sure part of it is a conviction that if he waits until November, “It may end up with Donald Trump returning to the Oval Office.”

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In recent weeks, some of the most difficult conversations have been left to Ron Dermer, a top Netanyahu aide and former Israeli ambassador to the United States, and Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. Senior aides speak almost daily, sometimes multiple times during the day, according to a US official and an Israeli official, who were not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Other senior Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as well as senior advisers Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein, have been at the forefront of the administration's push to engage Israelis and other allies in the Middle East as Biden seeks to engage Netanyahu's dialogue has become less positive.

Netanyahu, who has opposed calls for a two-state solution throughout his political career, told reporters this week that he had categorically told US officials that He remains opposed Any post-war plan includes the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The prime minister's latest refusal to push Biden in that direction came after Blinken said this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbors have a “profound opportunity” to resolve the generations-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Asked whether he thought Netanyahu was able to make the most of this moment, Blinken demurred.

“Look, these are decisions that the Israelis must make,” Blinken said. “This is a profound decision that the country as a whole must make: What direction does it want to go? Do you see — can it seize — the opportunity that we think exists?”

The relationship between Biden and Netanyahu has seen no shortage of peaks and valleys over the years. As vice president, Biden privately criticized Netanyahu after the Israeli leader embarrassed President Barack Obama by approving the construction of 1,600 new apartments in disputed East Jerusalem in the middle of Biden's 2010 visit to Israel.

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Netanyahu resisted publicly, before eventually acquiescing to Biden's calls for the Israelis to end the May 2021 military operation in Gaza. In late 2019, during a question-and-answer session with voters during the election campaign, Biden described Netanyahu as a “far-right” leader.

The path to a two-state solution – in which Israel coexists with an independent Palestinian state – has eluded US presidents and Middle Eastern diplomats for decades.

But as the war continues, Biden and his team have emphasized the idea of ​​a new dynamic in the Middle East in which Israel's Arab and Muslim neighbors are willing to integrate Israel into the region once the war is over, but only if Israel complies. The road to the Palestinian state.

Biden suggested that a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, could run Gaza once the fighting ends. Netanyahu strongly rejected the idea of ​​assigning the Palestinian Authority, which suffers from corruption, to be responsible for the authority in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu says that the Palestinian state will become a launching pad for attacks on Israel. Therefore, “Israel must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River,” Netanyahu said. This contradicts the idea of ​​sovereignty. What can we do?”

White House officials sought to downplay Netanyahu's public rejection of Biden's call for a two-state solution, noting that the prime minister's speech is not new.

They hope that Israel will eventually come to accept a Palestinian state that comes with strong security guarantees for Israel.

“I don’t think Biden has any illusions about Netanyahu,” said Daniel Kurtzer, who served as US ambassador to Egypt during the Bill Clinton administration and to Israel under George W. Bush. “But I don't think he's ready to close the door on it. That's because he gets the intersection between policy and politics.

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Associated Press writers Julia Frankel in Jerusalem and Ellen Nickmeyer, Seung-Min Kim and Colleen Leung in Washington contributed reporting.

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