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Biden Downplays Disagreement With Netanyahu On Palestinian Statehood

  • NEWS, World
  • 7 min read

Hours after a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Joe Biden played down his disagreement with Netanyahu over a future Palestinian state as a political goal in postwar Gaza.

Biden told reporters Friday at the White House he believed “there are a number of types of two-state solutions” and that Netanyahu may be open to one of them.

“There’s a number of countries that are members of the U.N. that … don’t have their own military, a number of states that have limitations,” he said. “And so, I think there’s ways in which this can work,” Biden said, providing the most detail so far about his conversations with Netanyahu on Gaza’s future.

Biden also dismissed the notion that a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians could not be reached with the current Israeli government in power — the most hard-line in the country’s history.

The Middle East has been a tinderbox since Iranian-backed Hamas launched a terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,200 people while taking about 240 people as hostages, Israel said. Israel’s response has killed more than 24,000 Palestinians, a large percentage of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

On Thursday, Netanyahu said he told the United States he opposes Washington’s long-standing support for the creation of a Palestinian state following Israel’s war with Hamas, prompting criticism from some Democratic lawmakers. The White House denied that Netanyahu’s statement was a factor in setting up the Friday call, the first in nearly a month.

With a two-state solution, the White House hopes at the same time to broker a normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a long-sought prize with broad economic and security implications for the region.

Biden and Netanyahu also discussed efforts to secure the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas and Israel’s shift to more targeted military operations, John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, said Friday at the White House press briefing.

Asked by VOA whether Biden believes Netanyahu can be persuaded to change his mind, Kirby said the president still believes in “the promise and possibility” of a two-state solution.

“He believes it’s going to take hard work and leadership,” Kirby said. “He’s willing to put his shoulder to the wheel for that eventual outcome.”

Kirby added that the U.S. welcomes Israel’s decision to permit the shipment of flour for the Palestinian people directly through Ashdod Port while the U.S. is separately working on options for more direct maritime delivery of assistance into Gaza.

FILE - Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Dec. 21, 2023.
FILE – Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Dec. 21, 2023.

Israel has not publicly confirmed the decision to permit the shipment of flour into Gaza, where the United Nations says there is a growing risk of famine. The Netanyahu government is sensitive to public sentiment given that hostages are still being held by Hamas.

Biden and Netanyahu also discussed “recent progress in ensuring the Palestinian Authority revenues are available to pay salaries, including for the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank,” Kirby said. Additionally, he said the leaders discussed “Israel’s responsibility” to protect innocent civilians even as it maintains military pressure on Hamas.

He underscored the U.S. commitment to the defense of its ally Israel and its right to exist as a country.

More strikes on Houthis

Kirby announced that U.S. forces conducted three “self-defense strikes” against Houthi targets in Yemen.

“This is a fourth preemptive action that the U.S. military has taken in the past week against the missile launchers that were ready to launch attacks,” he said.

The administration earlier this week redesignated the Iranian-backed militant group as a specially designated global terrorist group following weeks of missile and drone attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The Houthis say their attacks on global shipping in the Red Sea corridor are aimed at stopping Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, something Kirby rejected.

“This idea that somehow that has to do with Gaza just doesn’t square with the facts,” he said in response to VOA’s question. “Most of the ships that they’re going after have nothing to do with Israel.”

He underscored that Houthi attacks do not play into the administration’s calculus on whether to push Israel for a cease-fire.

Women and children

Since October 7, nearly 25,000 Palestinians have been killed, 70% of them women and children, according to a report by U.N. Women, the U.N. organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

“We have seen evidenced once more that women and children are the first victims of conflict and that our duty to seek peace is a duty to them,” Sima Bahous, executive director of U.N. Women, said in a statement Friday.

“In the past 15 years, 67% of all civilians killed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were men. Less than 14% were women and girls,” Bahous said. “That percentage has reversed. Today, 70% of those killed are women and children.”

In addition, nearly 1 million women and girls have been displaced across Gaza.

FILE - In this image from video released by Hamas on Dec. 2, 2023, a Hamas fighter aims an Al-Yasin rocket at an Israeli armored vehicle in Beit Hanoun, Gaza.
FILE – In this image from video released by Hamas on Dec. 2, 2023, a Hamas fighter aims an Al-Yasin rocket at an Israeli armored vehicle in Beit Hanoun, Gaza.

“These are people, not numbers, and we are failing them,” Bahous said. “That failure, and the generational trauma inflicted on the Palestinian people over these 100 days and counting, will haunt us all for generations to come.”

It is also time, she said, for the immediate and unconditional release of all of the Israeli hostages.

Russia — hostages

The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry said Friday it had held direct talks with a delegate from Hamas, which the U.S., U.K., EU and other countries have designated as a terrorist group, urging them to release the hostages it is holding in the Gaza strip, including three Russian nationals.

The ministry said in a statement that Mikhail Bogdanov, a deputy foreign minister, had received Hamas Politburo member Abu Marzouk.

“During the conversation, the focus was on the ongoing confrontation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone against the backdrop of which the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip has reached catastrophic proportions,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The Russian side stressed the need for the speedy release of civilians captured during the attacks of 7 October 2023 and held by Palestinian factions, including three Russian citizens — A. Kozlov, A. Lobanov and A. Trufanov,” the statement read.

Israel has said it does not plan to reoccupy Gaza at the end of the war with Hamas but has refused to spell out its day-after plans for the territory.

This photo taken Jan. 15, 2024, from Rafah shows a flare and smoke billowing over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment, amid battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
This photo taken Jan. 15, 2024, from Rafah shows a flare and smoke billowing over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment, amid battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Netanyahu said Israel has destroyed about two-thirds of Hamas’ fighting regiments in the Gaza Strip during more than three months of war and vowed to continue the war until Israel has achieved “complete victory.”

“There are two stages to the fighting. The first is destroying the Hamas regiments, those are their organized combat frameworks,” Netanyahu said.

“Up until now, 16 or 17 out of 24 [regiments] have been destroyed. After that, there is the [stage] of clearing the territory [of militants]. The first action is usually shorter. The second usually takes longer,” Netanyahu said. “Victory will take many more months, but we are determined to achieve it.”

The U.S. has for weeks pressed Israel to curtail its massive offensive in Gaza to sharply limit the number of civilian deaths in the narrow territory along the Mediterranean Sea.

VOA News