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Joe Biden warns Benjamin Netanyahu to change tack or risk losing global support

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Joe Biden has said Benjamin Netanyahu must change tack, warning that Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza risked leaving the country isolated.

Offering his harshest criticism of the Israeli prime minister’s far-right coalition since the Jewish state began its military offensive in response to Hamas’s October 7 attack, the US president said Israel was “starting to lose . . . support” around the world.

Speaking to donors at a political fundraiser, Biden described Netanyahu’s coalition as “the most conservative government in Israel’s history . . . [that] doesn’t want a two-state solution”.

Biden said: “I think he has to change, and with this government, this government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move.”

Until now Biden had largely resisted publicly pressuring Netanyahu even as US officials said they have had tough conversations in private. The US president has publicly been a staunch supporter of Israel throughout his political career, including its current war effort.

One US official said Biden’s remarks were not part of an orchestrated attempt by the White House to put pressure on Netanyahu but were “off the cuff” and “random”.

Later on Tuesday, in a joint press conference with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine, at the White House, Biden said he had “made it clear to the Israelis, and they’re aware, that . . . the safety of innocent Palestinians is still of great concern”.

The US president added Israeli actions “must be consistent with attempting to do everything possible to prevent innocent Palestinian civilians from being hurt, murdered, killed, lost, et cetera”.

Biden said he could not verify “assertions” that there were no hostages in tunnels in Gaza that Israel was expected to flood during its military operations. “I do know though that every civilian death is an absolute tragedy and Israel stated its intent to match its words, its intent, with actions,” he said. “That’s what I was talking about today.”

The US vetoed a widely supported UN Security Council resolution last week calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire that was bitterly opposed by Israel.

Biden’s aides, including vice-president Kamala Harris, defence secretary Lloyd Austin and secretary of state Antony Blinken, have more vocally criticised Israel and its approach to its military effort in Gaza. The death toll in the Gaza Strip had surpassed 18,000 people, according to Palestinian officials.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan is travelling to Israel this week to get a better sense of the Jewish state’s war plans and their timing. Biden said Austin would also head to the Middle East to discuss “international efforts to protect the free flow of commerce through the Red Sea”. US officials expect the fighting will reach a new phase as early as January.

The Biden administration has also been working on plans for postwar Gaza. Privately, western and Arab diplomats say it will be virtually impossible to reach any sort of two-state solution so long as Netanyahu remains in power.

Netanyahu has previously campaigned on the promise he would block the creation of a Palestinian state, and in recent days has roundly criticised the Oslo Accords, the 1990s deals that created the Palestinian Authority.

Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu acknowledged that his government and the Biden administration disagreed over how Gaza should be run once Israel’s war with Hamas ends, but said he hoped they could still find an agreement.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu has said he expects Israel will have an indefinite presence in Gaza, and ruled out an international force playing a role in security after the war © AP

The US has been pushing for the PA — which ruled Gaza until it was ousted by Hamas in 2007 and still exercises limited self-rule in parts of the occupied West Bank — to play a significant role in Gaza’s postwar governance.

However, Netanyahu has repeatedly said he will oppose the PA’s return to Gaza, and reiterated that stance on Tuesday. “Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan,” he said in a statement, referring to the Fatah faction of PA president Mahmoud Abbas.

“Yes, there is disagreement about ‘the day after Hamas’ and I hope that we will reach agreement here as well.”

Netanyahu, who has towered over Israeli politics for 15 years, returned to power last year after a brief period in opposition by forming a coalition with religious Zionist and ultraorthodox parties.

His cabinet includes national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who in 2007 was convicted for anti-Arab incitement, and Bezalel Smotrich, another ultranationalist settler whom he appointed finance minister.

The US has also made clear to Israel that it does not want to see the Jewish state occupy the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu has said he expects Israel will have an indefinite presence there, and ruled out an international force playing a role in security after the war, which was triggered by Hamas’s attacks that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.

“I think Israel will for an indefinite period have security responsibility,” Netanyahu told ABC News last month. “We’ve seen what happens when we don’t have that . . . security responsibility, what we have is the eruption of Hamas terror on a scale that we couldn’t imagine.”

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