Biden Says Netanyahu Must ‘Change’ For Peace

The president warned the Israeli prime minister that Israel is losing support on the world stage ― and that his right-wing coalition partners are hemming him in.

While affirming his support for Israel’s war against Hamas, President Joe Biden suggested in remarks at a Washington, D.C., campaign fundraiser on Tuesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might need to assemble a new governing coalition if there is ever to be hope for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“As I said after the [Oct. 7] attack, the safety of the Jewish people, the literal security of Israel as an independent Jewish state is literally at stake” in Israel’s war against Hamas, Biden said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the White House. “But it is unshakeable, our commitment to Israel.”

Biden also said that he had “personally” spent hours talking to Qatari, Egyptian and Israeli officials, in an effort to secure the release of the more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza.

But later in his remarks to a fundraiser hosted by Lee “Rosy” Rosenberg, a board member of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Biden shifted to criticism of the Israeli government, which he described as the “most conservative government in Israeli history” and fundamentally opposed to the two-state solution.

Biden then said that Netanyahu would need to “change” ― presumably, to moderate ― to achieve a long-term solution for the region.

Biden suggested though that that might not be possible with Netanyahu’s current governing coalition, which includes far-right, ultranationalist parties. “This government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move,” Biden said.

Biden singled out Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has a record of supporting violent Israeli extremists and is now Israel’s national security minister, by name.

“Ben-Gvir and company and the new folks, they ― they don’t want anything remotely approaching a two-state solution,” he said.

Biden also said that Palestinian leaders bear their share of the blame for the current conflict. “The Palestinians have not been governed well at all,” he said.

Still, even as he promised that Israel would always be able to count on U.S. support, Biden warned that European and broader global backing is more tenuous.

Israel “has most of the world supporting it,” Biden said. “But they’re starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place.”

And the president, who had been working tirelessly before the war to negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, emphasized his concerns about the potentially negative effects of a prolonged war and right-wing Israeli governance on his vision for regional harmony.

“We have an opportunity to begin to unite the region ― unite the region. And they still want to do it,” Biden said, referring to allies of the United States in the Arab world. “But we have to make sure that ― that Bibi understands that he’s got to make some moves to strengthen [the Palestinian Authority] ― strengthen it, change it, move it.”

“You cannot say there’s no Palestinian state at all in the future,” he added. “And that’s going to be the hard part.”

However, it is unclear how receptive Netanyahu will be to Biden’s recommendations. On Tuesday, the Israeli leader vowed to defy the United States’ calls to have the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian entity that governs part of the occupied West Bank, take over in Gaza after Israel’s war concludes.

President Joe Biden speaks during a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Monday.
President Joe Biden speaks during a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Monday.
Elizabeth Frantz/Associated Press

The Biden administration has, for weeks, admonished Israel to do more to limit civilian casualties in Gaza, and immediately after the war to begin making steps toward resumption of talks for a two-state solution.

The situation in Gaza has devolved into a massive humanitarian crisis. More than 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been internally displaced, and are struggling to gain access to scarce amounts of food, water and cooking fuel. Of the 18,400 Gazans who have died, two-thirds are women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry. Those figures do not differentiate between civilian and Palestinian militant deaths; Israel says it has killed 7,000 Hamas fighters.

At the same time, Biden has supported the fundamental aims of Israel’s war, and refused to accede to some Democratic lawmakers’ calls for conditioning U.S. military aid on changes in Israeli military tactics. He has requested a supplemental security spending bill that would provide over $10 billion in military aid for Israel, even more aid to Ukraine and significant new funding for border security enforcement. The bill is currently held up by a dispute between Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans, who are demanding more border enforcement money and significant immigration policy changes.

Biden’s remarks on Tuesday were perhaps his strongest to date suggesting that his patience with the Netanyahu government is growing thinner. Amid attacks on U.S. vessels and bases by Iranian proxies, U.S. officials are privately worried about a broader regional war breaking out.

Well before the Palestinian militant group Hamas’s brutal terror attack on Oct. 7, and the Israeli invasion that followed, Biden had expressed alarm about the far-right parties in Netanyahu’s new government. The U.S. Embassy in Israel has also made a point of excluding ultranationalist cabinet ministers Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Avi Ma’oz from official events that other Israeli government officials were invited to.

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