Biden suggests Netanyahu prolonging Israel’s Gaza war for political gains

US president’s remarks come as Washington pursues a truce and captives deal between Israel and Hamas to end conflict.

Medical workers tend to a Palestinian, who was wounded in an Israeli strike
Medical workers tend to a Palestinian, who was wounded in an Israeli strike in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip [Ramadan Abed/Reuters]

Washington, DC – United States President Joe Biden has suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is prolonging the war on Gaza for political reasons, an accusation that highlights the apparent tensions between the two leaders.

In a TIME Magazine interview published on Tuesday, the US president said there is “every reason for people to draw” the conclusion that Netanyahu is perpetuating the conflict for his own political ends.

Biden’s remarks come as his administration pushes for a truce deal and exchange of captives between Israel and Hamas that Washington says would lead to an “enduring ceasefire” and the eventual reconstruction of Gaza.

Biden shakes Netanyahu's hand
US President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York City, September 20, 2023 [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

The US has presented the proposal as an Israeli plan, arguing that Hamas is the only obstacle to the agreement.

The Palestinian group said on Friday – hours after Biden made the proposal public – that it is dealing “positively and constructively” with the plan, but it has not issued a formal response to it.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has said the deal would “enable Israel to continue the war until all its objectives are achieved, including the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities”.

The discrepancy between how US and Israeli officials are portraying the proposal has led to confusion.

Still, the push marks a shift in the position of the Biden administration, which had previously rejected a permanent end to the war, arguing that Israel must eliminate Hamas before a lasting ceasefire is achieved.

Biden criticised Israel’s war efforts on Friday. “Indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of ‘total victory’ will … only bog down Israel in Gaza, draining the economic, military, and human resources, and furthering Israel’s isolation in the world,” he said.

The US president’s remarks to TIME Magazine on Netanyahu appear to further underscore his growing frustration with the conflict.

Before the war broke out on October 7, Netanyahu was dealing with nationwide protests in Israel over a push to overhaul the country’s judiciary. The Israeli prime minister is also facing corruption charges at home.

For months, Palestinian rights advocates have warned that Netanyahu has a personal, political interest in prolonging the war to boost his standing in Israel and extend his political career.

Recent surveys in Israel show Netanyahu recovering popularity amid the war and edging out his main rival, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz.

Later on Tuesday, Biden was asked whether he thinks Netanyahu was playing politics with the war. He said: “I don’t think so. He’s trying to work out a serious problem he has.”

Israeli officials close to Netanyahu have previously floated the possibility of a protracted conflict in Gaza.

Days before Biden unveiled the truce proposal, Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the fighting in Gaza would go on for at least another seven months.

In the US, Biden’s response to the war in Gaza could harm his re-election chances, with public opinion polls showing that Arab, Muslim and young voters are reluctant to vote for the Democratic president over his support for Israel.

Biden, a self-proclaimed Zionist, had been a staunch defender of the war. His administration has vetoed three United Nations Security Council draft resolutions that would have called for a ceasefire.

The US president also signed off in April on $14bn in additional military aid to Israel. And his administration has continued to transfer weapons to the country despite growing allegations of war crimes, including withholding aid, killing non-combatants, torturing detainees and targeting civilian infrastructure.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan is seeking an arrest warrant for Netanyahu and his defence minister Yaov Gallant as well as Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

Last month, Biden rejected the ICC prosecutor’s move and called it “outrageous”, but the White House has opposed congressional efforts to impose sanctions on ICC officials for their investigation of Israeli conduct.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 36,500 Palestinians and brought Gaza to the verge of famine.

In his interview with TIME Magazine, Biden said it is “uncertain” that Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza.

In December, Biden said Israel was losing support for its war on Gaza over its “indiscriminate bombing” of the territory – a war crime.

Source: Al Jazeera