Biden hints Netanyahu is dragging out war for political survival

Biden hints Netanyahu is dragging out war for political survival

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United States President Joe Biden has suggested his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, may be dragging out the war in Gaza in an attempt to cling to power and said it was “uncertain” whether Israel had committed war crimes.

The president made the comments in an interview published on Tuesday in Time magazine.

“There is every reason for people to draw that conclusion,” he said when questioned whether he believed Netanyahu sought to prolong the conflict for political purposes, giving voice to a widespread belief in Washington and other capitals that the Israeli leader is using the war as a buffer against blowback.

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“Before the war began, the blowback he was getting from the Israeli military for wanting to change the constitu – change the court. And so it’s an internal domestic debate that seems to have no consequence,” Biden said, referring to Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul that had drawn angry protests before the October 7 terror attacks by Hamas that sparked the current conflict.

“Whether he would change his position or not, it’s hard to say, but it has not been helpful,” Biden said.

The comments were made last week as he was preparing to deliver a speech laying out what he said was an Israeli proposal to end the war and secure the release of hostages.

The speech was intended to apply pressure on Hamas and Israel to end the war, but the effect of his remarks was to put Netanyahu on the spot as the war in Gaza grinds ahead.

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So far, Netanyahu has yet to publicly endorse the plan, despite it being an Israeli proposal, and members of his far-right government have threatened to quit should the plan be adopted.

The president’s decision to spell out in detail Israel’s plan underscored his growing impatience at the logjam in talks to secure the release of hostages.

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“Bibi is under enormous pressure on the hostages … and so he’s prepared to do about anything to get the hostages back,” Biden said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

Relations between Biden and Netanyahu have become strained in recent months as the war drags on. The US has grown frustrated at some of Israel’s war tactics, which officials believe do not include stringent enough protections for civilians.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby downplayed Biden’s comments to Time on Tuesday.

“I think the president was very clear in his answer on that, and we’ll let the prime minister speak to his own politics and to what his critics are saying, and the president was referencing what many critics have said,” he told reporters.

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Biden said in the interview it wasn’t clear whether Israel’s actions constitute war crimes, an allegation made by the International Criminal Court when it issued arrest warrants for some Israeli leaders.

But he did say Israel had engaged in “in activity that is inappropriate”.

“The answer is it’s uncertain and has been investigated by the Israelis themselves. The ICC is something that we don’t, we don’t recognize,” Biden said when asked whether he believed Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza.

“But one thing is certain, the people in Gaza, the Palestinians have suffered greatly, for lack of food, water, medicine, etc. And a lot of innocent people have been killed.

“But it is – and a lot of it has to do not just with Israelis, but what Hamas is doing in Israel as we speak. Hamas is intimidating that population.”

Inside the White House, many view Netanyahu’s unwillingness to end the war as reflective of his fragile political standing.

That precarious position could become even shakier once investigations into potential missed signals ahead of the October 7 attacks begin. In the interview, Biden declined to place blame directly on Netanyahu for any security failings.

“I don’t know how any one person has that responsibility. He was the leader of the country, so therefore, it happened. But he wasn’t the only one that didn’t pick it up,” Biden said.

Instead, he said his principal disagreement with the Israeli leader was his refusal to begin planning for post-war Gaza and his rejection of an eventual Palestinian state.

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“My major disagreement with Netanyahu is, what happens after, what happens after Gaza’s over? What, what does it go back to?” he said.

The president later addded: “There needs to be a two-state solution, a transition to a two-state solution. And that’s my biggest disagreement with Bibi Netanyahu.”

Kirby acknowledged that Biden and Netanyahu have clashed in the past, including on the viability of a two-state solution.

“But for our part, we’re going to make sure that Israel has what it needs to continue to eliminate the threat by Hamas, and that we’re going to continue to work with the prime minister and the war cabinet to try to get this proposal over the finish line.” he said.

“A proposal, I would add that was an Israeli proposal that they crafted after some diplomatic conversations with us, and which they’ve acknowledged is their proposal, so that’s what our focus is going to be on.”

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