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Insights from Al-Monitor, Haaretz, and Semafor
U.S. President Joe Biden has reportedly not spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in more than three weeks, as Washington grows increasingly impatient with the rationale of the Israeli leader’s wartime conduct in Gaza amid mounting civilian casualties.
The last known call between the two leaders was on Dec. 23 — which ended with the U.S. president angrily ending the conversation over Netanyahu’s refusal to release the Palestinian tax revenues Israel is withholding, Axios reported.
White House officials are reportedly in regular contact with Netanyahu’s war cabinet member and former defense minister Benny Gantz, who has clashed with the prime minister over Israel’s military goals in Gaza.
Netanyahu, observers say, is more concerned about the survival of his government and career. “The end of war means the end of government,” Israel’s ultranationalist national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote on X.
Biden has been given “the finger” at every juncture of the war
The U.S. president is quickly losing patience with Netanyahu who has repeatedly denied or evaded Biden’s wartime requests. One of the issues that Biden and Netanyahu disagree on is the fate of the remaining Israelis held hostage by Hamas. U.S. officials who spoke with Al-Monitor believe that the Israeli leader is deliberately delaying progress on the issue because a return of hostages would require Israel to pull back its Gaza offensive, as well as efforts to capture or kill the militant group’s leader, Yahya Sinwar. “At every juncture, Netanyahu has given Biden the finger,” one Democratic senator told Axios. “They are pleading with the Netanyahu coalition, but getting slapped in the face over and over again.” The White House is also frustrated by the Israeli leader’s unwillingness to do more to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza or discuss post-war plans. Officials say that they are increasingly concerned that Israel won’t meet its timetable to transition to low-intensity operations in the enclave by the end of January.
Biden’s frustration with Netanyahu should make him course correct on Israel-Hamas war
Biden has so far resisted calls to shift his unequivocal support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, but he has to decide whether his growing frustration with an obstinate Netanyahu is enough for him to ”change course,” one Israeli diplomat wrote for Haaretz. One “audacious” option for Biden to course correct is to present Israel with the U.S’ vision for postwar Gaza, he argued, which would include Israel’s integration into an axis with Arab countries and a revitalized Palestinian Authority. But signs from the past week show that the Gaza war has already escalated to a by-proxy regional conflict and that further escalation may be inevitable. Other U.S. politicians have said that America should start putting conditions on military aid to Israel. In a letter to Biden before Christmas, a group of Democrats urged the president to use the U.S.’ leverage for “an immediate and significant shift of military strategy and tactics in Gaza.”
Contempt for Netanyahu threatens Biden’s 2024 hopes
Biden’s continued support for Israel’s war against Hamas has emerged not only as his “defining foreign policy initiative,” but also as one of his biggest political threats ahead of the 2024 election, said Semafor’s Global Security Editor Jay Solomon. The president’s advisors are working towards finding “a formula” that lets Israel achieve its most pressing military aims “without undermining” Biden’s reelection chances, Solomon said. But the White House’s efforts to separate Netanyahu from the policy debate to lessen political opposition inside the U.S. “is a challenge,” given that Israel’s military campaign is planned by a war cabinet that includes Netanyahu as well as his political opponents.
As Israel’s Gaza offensive enters “a less ‘kinetic’ phase” with small-scale attacks that reduce the civilian death toll, the Biden administration hopes it can shift to developing post-war leadership in Gaza and engage in regional talks to build an independent Palestinian state. “This transition could open the way for the next elections in Israel that spells the end of Netanyahu’s leadership, well ahead of the U.S. election,” Solomon said.