newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Biden doesn’t discuss ‘humanitarian aid,’ ‘pauses’ or ‘safe passage’ on latest call with Netanyahu

“The political disagreement will not go away” between Washington and Jerusalem, Shoshana Bryen, senior director of the Jewish Policy Center, told JNS.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes U.S. President Joe Biden at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes U.S. President Joe Biden at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.

The White House readout of U.S. President Joe Biden’s call on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the curtest of their 11 calls that Washington has summarized publicly since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attacks on Israel. The Nov. 14 call was also the first in more than a month in which the White House didn’t state that Biden mentioned humanitarian aid, safe passage or “pauses” in the Israel Defense Forces’ maneuvers in the Gaza Strip.

In a 51-word readout, the White House stated that Biden and Netanyahu spoke in the afternoon “regarding the latest developments in Israel and Gaza.” They also talked “at length” about “ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas, including many children and a number of Americans.”

The only other readout of the 11 that was comparable in length was a 59-word-readout following Biden’s and Vice President Kamala Harris’s call with Netanyahu on Oct. 11, following the U.S. officials’ briefing with their national security team. The two talked that morning with Netanyahu about “ongoing U.S. support for Israel as Israel defends itself and protects its people.”

Biden and Netanyahu had spoken the prior day, on Oct. 10. The most recent phone conversation between Biden and Netanyahu that the White House summarized prior to Tuesday’s was on Nov. 6, eight days beforehand.

All of the nine other White House readouts of calls between Netanyahu and Biden were at least 120% longer than Tuesday’s, and all since Oct. 11 mentioned some form of humanitarian aid in Gaza, according to the White House.

“President Biden reiterated yesterday that Israel will continue the war until Hamas is destroyed. He mentioned Hamas war crimes. There may not be a lot to discuss right now as regards the war,” Shoshana Bryen, senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly, told JNS. “Plus, he has China as a priority while Xi is here.”

Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met near San Francisco on Nov. 15. Biden said that it was “some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had.”

At the same time that Biden has been supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, “the administration is making pronouncements about the political future of Gaza, which would give authority in Gaza to Mahmoud Abbas,” Bryen told JNS. Abbas is the 88-year-old leader of the Palestinian Authority, which hasn’t seen an election since he took the reins in January 2005.

“Israel strongly disagrees but has more immediate concerns,” said Bryen. “The political disagreement will not go away.”

Danielle Pletka, a distinguished senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told JNS that readouts from calls between world leaders “are nothing other than bureaucratic filler.”

Biden phone
U.S. President Joe Biden records phone calls on Sept. 14, 2023, in the Oval Office. Credit: Cameron Smith/Official White House photo.

“The larger problem is the pressure that Biden is starting to feel from his staff,” she said. “I think it’s right to assume that U.S. policy towards Israel right now is Biden policy. His staff and the bureaucratic deep state are anti-Israel. The White House staff is pressing the president to be more hardline in line with their own views and the increasing leftward drift of the party.”

“Press releases aren’t the issue,” she added. “The issue is the president slowly losing control of his own policy.”

The ‘bureaucratic filler’

On Nov. 6 (197 words), Biden and Netanyahu “welcomed the increase in humanitarian assistance over the past week” and talked about “the necessity to significantly ramp up deliveries over the coming week.” Biden emphasized “the imperative to protect Palestinian civilians and reduce civilian harm in the course of military operations,” and the two “discussed the possibility of tactical pauses to provide civilians with opportunities to safely depart from areas of ongoing fighting.”

Biden told Netanyahu on Oct. 29 (132 words) about operating “in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritizes the protection of civilians” and “underscored the need to immediately and significantly increase the flow of humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza.”

On Oct. 25 (177 words), Biden and Netanyahu “reviewed ongoing discussions to ensure safe passage for foreign nationals wishing to depart Gaza as soon as possible” and Bien “discussed ongoing U.S. support for the continuous flow of humanitarian support to the civilian population in Gaza and welcomed efforts to increase this support over the coming period.” Biden also said that Israel must act in accordance with “international humanitarian law.”

Bien and Netanyahu spoke on Oct. 23 in the afternoon (116 words) with the U.S. president emphasizing the need “to provide for safe passage for U.S. citizens and other civilians in Gaza” and underscoring “the need to sustain a continuous flow of urgently needed humanitarian assistance into Gaza.”

The prior day (127 words), Oct. 22, Biden “welcomed the first two convoys of humanitarian assistance since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack, which crossed the border into Gaza and is being distributed to Palestinians in need.” The two also “affirmed that there will now be continued flow of this critical assistance into Gaza” and discussed provision “for safe passage for U.S. citizens and other civilians in Gaza who wish to depart.”

Biden underscored “the importance of operating consistent with the law of war to include the protection of civilians in Gaza caught in the conflict launched by Hamas” in an Oct. 20 call (121 words) with Netanyahu. The two discussed “moving humanitarian assistance into Gaza from Egypt” and “safe passage for U.S. citizens and other civilians in Gaza,” per the White House.

Biden brought up access to water, food and medical care for “innocent civilians” in an Oct. 14 call (125 words) with Netanyahu.

Four days prior, on Oct. 10, the White House did not note (138 words) that the U.S. president and vice president brought up any sort of safe passage, pauses or humanitarian aid—the last time he didn’t do so, according to the White House, since the call this week. Biden also didn’t bring any of those things up on Oct. 8 (178 words), the day after the Hamas terror attacks and the first of the 11 calls between the leaders that the White House publicly summarized.

“We have given President Biden high marks for his initial response to the Israel-Hamas war, particularly for traveling to Israel in person to show that America stands with the Jewish State,” Sam Markstein, national political director at the Republican Jewish Coalition, told JNS.

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu receives a congratulatory phone call from U.S. President Joe Biden in the aftermath of Israel’s national elections, Nov. 7, 2022. (Courtesy: Likud Party).

“Jewish Americans are counting on President Biden to resist the rising pressure from anti-Israel hard-left progressives in the Democratic Party who have been foolishly calling for a ceasefire, which would keep the barbaric Hamas terrorists in power and enable them to re-arm and cause more destruction,” he added.

“The IDF must be permitted to do its job of obliterating Hamas, and the only call should be for Hamas to immediately release the 240 hostages, which includes nine American citizens.”

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