Yesterday, Joe Biden had a phone call with Bibi Netanyahu. In more normal times, such a call between the leaders of closely allied nations would be nothing unusual, particularly when one of them is in the midst of a brutal war against a terrorist regime. But believe it or not, despite all of the visits to Israel by Tony Blinken and others, it had been four weeks since Biden and Netanyahu had spoken directly. We don’t have a transcript of the call, but based on the reporting of the Associated Press, there is a lot more “strain” in the relationship at the moment so it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally spoke Friday after a glaring, nearly four-week gap in direct communication during which fundamental differences have come into focus over a possible pathway to Palestinian statehood once the fighting in Gaza ends.
Biden and his top aides have all but smothered Netanyahu with robust support, even in the face of global condemnation over the mounting civilian death toll and humanitarian suffering in Gaza as the Israelis have carried out military operations in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
But the leaders’ relationship has increasingly shown signs of strain as Netanyahu has repeatedly rebuffed Biden’s calls for Palestinian sovereignty, gumming up what the U.S. president believes is the key to unlocking a durable peace in the Middle East — the oft-cited, elusive two-state solution.
At least for the moment, Joe Biden continues to support Israel publicly in their war against Hamas, though he has been urging more “restraint” in terms of minimizing Palestinian casualties and ensuring a steady flow of aid into Gaza. But now the disagreement between the two leaders is reportedly centered not on the war itself, but what comes after. Joe Biden has jumped on the bandwagon of people calling for an independent Palestinian state.
Netanyahu is having none of the two-state solution talk. He also hasn’t set forth any sort of definitive picture of what a post-war Gaza would look like beyond some vague talk of having Western security forces in the Strip and monitoring the reconstruction and the flow of aid. Biden continues to believe that he can somehow persuade Bibi to change his mind. When a reporter asked Biden if a two-state solution is impossible with Netanyahu in office, he said, “No, it’s not.” Somebody needs to tell Bibi that.
Both leaders are facing pressure at home right now. Netanyahu is facing a rising chorus of Israelis who want him to find a way to bring all the rest of the hostages home faster. How that would be accomplished never seems to be specified. Biden is hearing from Senate Democrats who just this week suggested that Bibi’s position on Palestinian statehood could endanger future foreign aid to Israel.
What none of them seem to grasp is that the future of both Israel and Gaza is not our business. Only Israel can say what the final resolution needs to be based on their own security needs. America’s responsibility is to be a good ally to Israel and support what they do. If the people of Israel are unhappy with Netanyahu’s leadership, they will schedule new elections and make that known. (This is a situation that remains possible and Bibi is working hard to avoid such a development.)
Something will have to become of Gaza after Hamas is rooted out. We’ve discussed the possibilities here before, but finding a clear path forward will be beyond challenging. Nobody involved agrees with Biden in wanting to put a “revitalized Palestinian Authority” in charge, including the PA. Can the Palestinians be trusted to rule themselves in a peaceful fashion without falling back down the same anti-Israel rathole? It doesn’t seem likely, but what other options would be left? We can’t just ship all two million of them out to other Arab countries as refugees and simply give all the land to Israel, no matter how appealing that might sound. Who would take them all? And they would probably just sneak back and begin attacking Israel anyway. It’s a hot mess, and we clearly don’t have the right people in charge in the United States to figure this puzzle out at the moment.