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Israel-Palestine war: Biden says Israel 'indiscriminately bombing' Gaza

US president says Israel is losing global support for war in Gaza as he issues ultimatum to Netanyahu not to reject a Palestinian state
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a Hanukkah holiday reception at the White House in Washington, DC, on 11 December 2023

US President Joe Biden issued his strongest criticism of Israel yet, warning that the US's closest Middle East ally was starting to lose support around the world because of its “indiscriminate bombing” of the Gaza Strip.

Biden’s comments, made to donors at a Washington hotel on Tuesday, provide a rare window into his administration’s concerns about Israel’s offensive - and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, even as Washington continues to rush military aid to Israel - and in a recent case, bypassing Congress to do so. 

Biden aimed specifically at Netanyahu’s far-right government allies, saying, "Bibi's got a tough decision to make” and that "this is the most conservative government in Israel's history”, which he said doesn't want a two-state solution.

He added that Netanyahu “cannot rule out the creation of a Palestinian state in the future”.

Biden’s remarks reflect the widening split between the US and Israel over the future of Gaza once the war is over.

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The Biden administration has consistently said it wants the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has limited governing power in the occupied West Bank, to take control of the besieged enclave once the war is over, with an eye towards holding elections and creating an independent Palestinian state.

Netanyahu ruled out the PA’s return to Gaza in a statement on Tuesday, saying he would "not allow Israel to repeat the mistake of Oslo", referencing the 1990s peace accords that created the Palestinian Authority.

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Netanyahu, who faces corruption charges and a likely inquiry into how Hamas’s 7 October attack took Israel’s government by surprise, is dependent on far-right lawmakers to remain in power.

Israel's national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich are opposed to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. But support for a permanent Israeli footprint in Gaza transcends Netanyahu's far-right allies. Given a direct choice, 44 percent of Israelis said in a poll that they favour the rebuilding of settlements in Gaza after the war. 

"He (Netanyahu) has to change this government,” Biden told a group of around 100 donors, including some Jewish supporters. “This government in Israel is making it very difficult.”

'Israel losing support'

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Palestine war, the Biden administration has pressured Israel to think through its “day after” plan for the besieged enclave.

Middle East Eye previously reported that the US pressed Israel to delay its ground invasion to better define its "post-Hamas plan".

The US has also lobbied neighbouring Arab states to take a direct role in Gaza’s security, but leaders like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have rebuffed those requests. 

On Friday, the top diplomats of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt made a rare joint visit to Washington to press for an immediate ceasefire to the war. They refused to publicly discuss any future plans for the enclave until the fighting stopped. 

For its part, the Biden administration has struggled to square its stated objectives in Gaza. 

The US says it backs Israel in its goal to destroy Hamas, but the Palestinian Authority - the US wants the PA to govern Gaza - says it is open to a ‘“junior role” for Hamas in government. 

Meanwhile, sources familiar with the matter told MEE previously that Egyptian officials have repeatedly told the US that Israel’s stated war aims to eliminate Hamas are "unrealistic". 

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Biden’s remarks suggested that the US is concerned about the timeline of Israel’s offensive and international opinion. Last week, the US was the only UN Security Council member to veto a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

"Israel's security can rest on the United States, but right now it has more than the United States. It has the European Union, it has Europe, it has most of the world ... But they're starting to lose that support by indiscriminate bombing that takes place," Biden said.

The US leader’s statement went far beyond any of the subtle criticism his top officials have aired about civilian casualties inflicted as a result of Israel’s offensive.

It’s a public blow to Israel, which has defended Gaza’s staggering civilian death count on the grounds that Hamas is hiding among the civilian population and that it is taking precautions to limit civilian deaths. Hamas denies the allegation.

Regardless, Biden’s language will likely be referenced by rights groups, Arab leaders and the Palestinians, as they push the US to rein in its ally, which Washington continues to arm with bunker-busting bombs, guided bombs, and tank rounds, along with other weapons.

Biden also appeared to reveal details about a private conversation with Netanyahu where the Israeli leader pushed back against his criticism, saying, "You carpet-bombed Germany, you dropped the atom bomb, a lot of civilians died.”

"Yeah, that's why all these institutions were set up after World War II to see to it that it didn't happen again,” Biden told the audience. “Don’t make the same mistakes we made in 9/11. There's no reason why we had to be in a war in Afghanistan.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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