Biden and Netanyahu have finally spoken but their visions for.com2F682F172Fdc6d58dc6cc96c9ed1b6828973b62F0e9794b2e1224fb3a40eb57301c0d1c9

Biden and Netanyahu have finally spoken, but their visions for ending the Israel-Hamas war still clash – The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally spoke Friday, after a glaring, nearly four-week gap in direct communication that highlighted fundamental differences over a possible path to Palestinian statehood after the fighting ends have become clear in Gaza.

Biden and his top aides have all but stifled Netanyahu with strong support, even in the face of global condemnation of the rising civilian death toll and humanitarian suffering in Gaza as the Israelis have carried out military operations following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

But the leaders' relationship is showing increasing signs of tension as Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected Biden's calls for Palestinian sovereignty, what the US president believes is key to achieving lasting peace in the Middle East – the oft-quoted, elusive two-state solution.

Neither side shows any signs of moving.

Friday's call came a day after Netanyahu said he had clearly told U.S. officials that he would not support a Palestinian state as part of a postwar plan. Biden, for his part, reiterated his commitment to working to help Palestinians on their path to statehood in his call Friday.

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

During the first weeks of the war, the leaders spoke frequently. But the regular frequency of conversations between Biden and Netanyahu, who have had a heated relationship for more than three decades, has slowed significantly. Their 30- to 40-minute phone call Friday was their first conversation since Dec. 23.

Both sides are constrained by domestic 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 considerable influence to pressure Israel to to end a war that has already claimed the lives of nearly 25,000 Palestinians.

Impatience with Netanyahu is also growing in Israel over the lack of progress in releasing dozens of hostages still held by Islamist militants in Gaza.

“There is certainly cause for concern,” said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israel relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. “The more and more we see that political considerations dominate the relationship between Biden and Netanyahu, the more likely it will be that if we continue because of the upcoming presidential election and the weakness of both leaders, we will see them fall apart.”

In their recent calls, Biden's frustration with Netanyahu has become more apparent, even as the U.S. leader has been careful at every step to reiterate his support for Israel, according to U.S. officials who requested anonymity to discuss the leaders' private interactions speak.

Nevertheless, Biden has not, at least publicly, given up on the idea of ​​winning over Netanyahu. Asked by a reporter Friday whether a two-state solution would be impossible during Netanyahu's term, Biden replied: “No, that's not the case.”

Aides insist Biden understands the political situation Netanyahu finds himself in with his far-right coalition and as he grapples with ongoing corruption allegations that have left the prime minister fighting for his freedom, not just his political future .

Biden, meanwhile, will face American voters in November, likely in a rematch with former President Donald Trump. Netanyahu and Trump formed a close relationship during the Republican's time in office. Biden has faced criticism from some on his left who believe he has not pushed the Israelis hard enough to show restraint in their military operations.

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

Expect Netanyahu to “use every trick at his disposal to keep his coalition together, avoid elections and exploit the clock,” said Michael Koplow, chief policy officer at the Israel Policy Forum. “And I'm sure part of that is the belief that if he waits until November, he might end up back in the Oval Office with Donald Trump.”

In recent weeks, some of the more difficult conversations have been left to Ron Dermer, a top adviser to Netanyahu and a former Israeli ambassador to the US, and Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan. The two top advisers spoke almost daily – sometimes multiple times a day, according to a U.S. 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 efforts to engage the Israelis and other Middle East allies as Biden. The dialogue with Netanyahu has become less constructive.

Netanyahu, who has opposed calls for a two-state solution throughout his political career, told reporters this week that he has told U.S. officials flatly that he remains opposed to any postwar plan that calls for the creation of a Palestinian state .

The prime minister's latest rejection of Biden's push in that direction came after Blinken said at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week that Israel and its Middle East neighbors have “a profound opportunity” to resolve the generational conflict between Israel and Palestine. Asked whether he thought Netanyahu was capable of making the best of this situation, Blinken disagreed.

“Look, these are decisions that the Israelis have to make,” Blinken said. “This is a profound decision for the entire country: What direction does it want to go? Does it see – can it take advantage of the opportunity that we believe is there?”

The relationship between Biden and Netanyahu has seen numerous ups and downs 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.

Netanyahu publicly resisted Biden's calls for the Israelis to halt a military operation in Gaza in May 2021 before eventually giving in. And in late 2019, Biden called Netanyahu a “far-right” leader during a question-and-answer session with voters on the campaign trail.

The path to a two-state solution — one in which Israel would coexist with an independent Palestinian state — has eluded U.S. presidents and Middle East diplomats for decades.

But as the war continues, Biden and his team argue that there is a new dynamic in the Middle East in which Israel's Arab and Muslim neighbors are willing to integrate Israel into the region after the war ends, but only if Israel commits to it committed to a path to a Palestinian state.

Biden has suggested that a “revived” Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank could rule Gaza once the fighting is over. Netanyahu has strongly rejected the idea of ​​entrusting the corruption-plagued Palestinian Authority with control of the territory.

Netanyahu argues that a Palestinian state would become a launching pad for attacks on Israel. Therefore, Israel must “have security control over the entire area west of the Jordan,” said Netanyahu. “This clashes with the idea of ​​sovereignty. What can we do?”

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

They hold out hope that Israel might eventually come to accept a Palestinian state that would bring strong security guarantees for Israel.

“I don’t think Biden has any illusions about Netanyahu,” said Daniel Kurtzer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt during the Bill Clinton administration and as U.S. ambassador to Israel under George W. Bush. “But I don’t think he’s ready to slam the door in his face. And that’s because he understands the interface between politics and politics.”


AP writers Julia Frankel in Jerusalem and Ellen Knickmeyer, Seung Min Kim and Colleen Long in Washington contributed reporting.