update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Biden: Netanyahu under ‘enormous pressure’ to bring hostages home

"And so he's prepared to do about anything to get the hostages back," the U.S. president told "Time."

President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.
President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.

U.S. President Joe Biden said in an interview with Time published on Tuesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was under “enormous pressure” to forge a hostages-for-ceasefire deal with Hamas.

“The last offer Israel made was very generous in terms of who [Palestinian prisoners] they’d be willing to release, what they’d give in return, et cetera. Bibi [Netanyahu] is under enormous pressure on the hostages… and so he’s prepared to do about anything to get the hostages back,” said Biden.

Freeing the hostages is the main reason the White House is pushing for a ceasefire, Biden said.

Asked about the condition of the eight U.S. citizens held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, Biden said, “We believe there are those that are still alive. I met with all the families. But we don’t have final proof on exactly who’s alive and who’s not alive.”

The U.S. president emphasized that his key argument with the Israeli premier centers on the “day after” Hamas in Gaza.

“My major disagreement with Netanyahu is, what happens after, what happens after Gaza’s over? What, what does it go back to? Do Israeli forces go back in?” Biden said.

“I’ve been talking to the Egyptians and been talking to the Saudis. I’ve been talking to the Jordanians, I’ve been talking to the Emiratis. The answer is, if that’s the case, it can’t work. There needs to be a two-state solution, a transition to a two-state solution. And that’s my biggest disagreement with Bibi Netanyahu,” added the president.

Biden also made the controversial suggestion that “there is every reason” to believe that Netanyahu is prolonging the Gaza war for political reasons.

Biden referred to the divisive judicial-reform debate that was roiling Israeli society before the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack that started the war.

“[B]efore the war began, the blowback he was getting from the Israeli military for wanting to change the constitu[tion]—change the court,” he said. “And whether he would change his position or not, it’s hard to say, but it has not been helpful.”

Asked whether Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza, Biden said, “The answer is it’s uncertain and has been investigated by the Israelis themselves.”

“The ICC [International Criminal Court at the Hague] is something that we don’t… recognize. But one thing is certain, the people in Gaza, the Palestinians have suffered greatly, for lack of food, water, medicine, etc. And a lot of innocent people have been killed.”

Biden also blamed Hamas. “[A] lot of it has to do not just with Israelis, but what Hamas is doing in Israel as we speak. Hamas is intimidating that population. I went over right after that attack on the Israelis. What they did was—exceeded anything I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot. Tying mothers and daughters together with rope and pouring kerosene on it [sic] and burning them to death. That kind of thing, attempting to intimidate. And it is dastardly.”

While stopping short of agreeing with those who accuse Israel of intentionally starving the Gaza population, another accusation that Jerusalem flatly rejects, Biden said that Israel was engaging “in activity that is inappropriate.”

“[W]hen I went over immediately after… Hamas’ brutal attack, I said then, and it became public… don’t make the same mistake we did going after bin Laden. Don’t try. The idea of occupying Afghanistan, the idea that you had nuclear arsenals in Iran, that were being, I mean, in Iraq, that were being generated, simply not true. And it led to endless wars. They were not true. Don’t make the mistakes we made. And they’re making that mistake, I think,” Biden said.

As to whether Netanyahu alone was responsible for Oct. 7, the president said others share in the failure.

“I don’t know how any one person has that responsibility. He was the leader of the country… But he wasn’t the only one that didn’t pick it up.”

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