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Two-state debate

With Netanyahu gov’t vocally opposing a Palestinian state, Biden calls for political ‘change’

The Israeli prime minister and U.S. president clash in public statements about the Palestinian Authority

Avi Ohayon (GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued via public statements about the Palestinian Authority’s role in a post-war Gaza, with the US president calling on Netanyahu to change his government to enable a two-state solution.

Yet, Netanyahu has opposed plans of the kind the Biden administration is promoting for decades, and switching his coalition partners would be unlikely to be enough to get Washington and Jerusalem aligned on the matter.

In remarks delivered at a Washington fundraiser on Tuesday, Biden described Netanyahu as a “good friend,” but said “I think he has to change,” and called on the prime minister to think about changing his coalition partners — specifically, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and his allies.

“This government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move,” Biden said of Netanyahu.

“Ben-Gvir and company and the new folks, they don’t want anything remotely approaching a two-state solution,” he said. “We have to work toward bringing Israel together in a way that provides for the beginning of an option of a two-state solution.”

Biden also cautioned Israel that it is losing global support in its war against Hamas, in the sharpest comments he has offered publicly toward Israel since it began its military campaign in Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks. 

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

Still, Biden pledged that his core commitment — Israel’s security — remains unwavering, despite political differences between the U.S. and Israel.

“In the meantime, we’re not going to do a damn thing other than protect Israel in the process. Not a single thing,” said Biden. 

The president was introduced at Tuesday’s event by Lee Rosenberg, a former president of AIPAC. Roughly 100 people were present at the fundraiser at the Salamander Hotel. 

Biden’s remarks followed weeks of disagreement between Washington, which sees a central role for the Palestinian Authority in the reconstruction of Gaza and on a path to a two-state solution, and Jerusalem, which opposes a Palestinian state and does not see the PA as it currently stands as a partner. Netanyahu released a video on Tuesday thanking the U.S. and Biden for their “full backing” of Israel’s war against Hamas.

However, Netanyahu said, “there is disagreement about ‘the day after Hamas’ and I hope that we will reach [an] agreement here as well.”

“I would like to clarify my position,” he added. “I will not allow Israel to repeat the mistake of Oslo.”

“After the great sacrifice of our civilians and our soldiers, I will not allow the entry into Gaza of those who educate for terrorism, support terrorism and finance terrorism,” Netanyahu said, referring to the Palestinian Authority.

That video came a day after Israeli TV news reported leaked comments from a closed Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, in which Netanyahu equated the death toll from Hamas’ massacre – 1,200 Israelis – to that of the Oslo Accords, “though over a longer period.” 

Opposition leader Yair Lapid described Netanyahu’s remarks as “an evil political campaign meant to remove [Netanyahu’s] responsibility, to blame others and create hatred” at a time when Israelis are “going from funeral to funeral, shiva to shiva [and] soldiers are fighting courageously.”

The Biden administration reportedly views Netanyahu’s talk against the Palestinian Authority in the same way, with an official quoted in the Times of Israel saying that the prime minister is in “campaign mode.” 

However, the anonymous official’s assertion that “this isn’t a government-wide approach,” reflected publicly in Biden’s remarks that it is only Ben-Gvir and his ilk who are “making it very difficult for” Netanyahu, only partly reflects the political reality in Israel.

The only war cabinet ministers who have said they are for a two-state solution are Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisencot. Even the other ministers from their National Unity party oppose it. Other cabinet members share Netanyahu’s view or say he is not hawkish enough, such as the members of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Ben-Gvir’s parties who opposed allowing more fuel into Gaza at Washington’s request.

The Israeli opposition is divided on the matter, as well. On Biden’s side is Labor leader Merav Michaeli, who recently announced her resignation and departure from electoral politics, lamented that “Netanyahu can lie and incite about Oslo, but it doesn’t hide the fact that he doesn’t have another solution for the day after the war. His actions only endanger Israel’s security. Only a diplomatic arrangement can ensure peace and security for Israel, which is why this government has to go immediately.”

On the right of the opposition bloc, Israel Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman said this week that “the Oslo experiment lasted for 30 years, during which we paid a dear price in the lives of thousands of Israelis who were murdered – ‘peace offerings’ – is over. Recent events have proven beyond all doubt that [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], a serial Holocaust denier who refuses to condemn the Oct. 7 massacre in even one word is unable and inappropriate to rule in Judea and Samaria nor in the Gaza Strip.” Lieberman called for Jordan to control parts of the West Bank and for Egypt to control Gaza “even if they have no interest,” and argued that Washington can help convince them.

Netanyahu’s outspoken opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s involvement in post-war Gaza will likely help his domestic political situation – at least within his coalition, while his Likud party is polling poorly – but he has opposed a Palestinian state for decades.

Netanyahu won the premiership for the first time in 1996 as the anti-Oslo candidate, amid Palestinian terrorist attacks. When he carried out the part requiring Israel’s retreat from most of Hebron, it was because “governments are guided by the continuity of international agreements,” Netanyahu wrote in his autobiography, Bibi, published last year. Netanyahu has consistently and publicly voiced opposition to the Oslo process from its inception. 

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