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Biden reiterates to Netanyahu the need for a two-state solution

The US President and the Israeli prime minister spoke on Friday by telephone for the first time in nearly a month, amid increasingly visible tensions

Joe Biden
Joe Biden delivers remarks on his economic plan during a visit to Abbotts Creek Community Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, January 18, 2024.NATHAN HOWARD (REUTERS)

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Friday for the first time in nearly a month, as their differences appear to be becoming increasingly public. The phone call, in which the White House resident reiterated the need to establish a future Palestinian state, came after the Israeli leader unequivocally rejected that prospect, the fundamental pillar on which Washington bases its proposals for the day after the war in Gaza. But in remarks during a meeting with mayors, Biden has reassured that Netanyahu is not opposed to “all” models of a Palestinian state. And asked by a reporter if a two-state solution is impossible while Netanyahu is in office, Biden replied, “No, it’s not.”

The telephone conversation, which lasted about 40 minutes, was the first since December 23, when the dialogue between the two leaders was so unconstructive that Biden ended up hanging up the phone on his interlocutor, according to the US news portal Axios. This time, according to the White House, it took a more diplomatic course to discuss the latest developments in Israel and Gaza.

The two discussed steps being taken, in public and behind the scenes, to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and other Palestinian groups since the radical militia attacked Israel on Oct. 7, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby at the daily White House press briefing. They also discussed a shift to targeted operations that will allow more humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza, while maintaining significant military pressure on Hamas and its leaders, and Biden congratulated Netanyahu on Israel’s decision to allow flour shipments to reach the strip by sea, the spokesman said.

Much of the conversation was devoted to what has become one of the major stumbling blocks in a relationship between the two governments that, at the beginning of the conflict, seemed unshakably solid: the future after the war and the need for a two-state solution, Israeli and Palestinian. Biden also addressed his vision for a more lasting peace and security for a fully integrated Israel in the region.

Tensions between the two allied countries have been particularly evident since Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to the Middle East earlier this month, his fourth tour of the region since the current war in Gaza began in October. In a visit aimed at trying to prevent the conflict from spreading to other parts of the region, and to prepare for the day after the war, the head of US diplomacy presented Israeli authorities with a plan whereby Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries would contribute to the reconstruction of the Strip, and Riyadh would agree to the normalization of relations with Israel, in exchange for steps towards the establishment of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.

Control security

On Thursday, Netanyahu rejected that possibility outright. He said Israel “must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River,” adding: “That collides with the idea of sovereignty. What can we do?”

Despite Netanyahu’s rejection, Biden continues to believe in the promise and possibility of a two-state solution. He realizes that it’s going to take a lot of work. That it’s going to require a lot of leadership in the region, especially on both sides of the issue. But the United States remains firmly committed to seeing that outcome in the future, John Kirby stressed.

The two leaders also discussed Israel’s payment of Palestinian National Authority tax revenues in the West Bank and recent progress in ensuring that Palestinian authorities are available to pay salaries, including those of Palestinian security forces, Kirby said. President Biden also addressed Israel’s responsibility to reduce harm to civilians and protect innocents while maintaining military pressure on Hamas, the spokesman added.

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