newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Gaza policy will change if Israel doesn’t meet US conditions, Biden warns Netanyahu 

“If we don’t see changes from their side, there’ll have to be changes from our side,” White House advisor John Kirby said.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to reporters in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to reporters in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

U.S. President Joe Biden demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, per a White House readout of their call on Thursday.

“President Biden emphasized that the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation are unacceptable,” the readout stated. “He made clear the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering and the safety of aid workers.”

Biden also “made clear that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps,” the statement added.

During a White House press briefing on Thursday afternoon, reporters repeatedly asked John Kirby, the White House national security communications advisor, if Biden had threatened Netanyahu.

Kirby declined to say what specific policy changes Washington would make if Israel failed to meet U.S. conditions. “If we don’t see changes from their side, there’ll have to be changes from our side,” Kirby said. “There has to be tangible steps. Let’s see what they announce. Let’s see what they direct. Let’s see what they do.”

The White House advisor expects Israel to announce “changes” within “hours and days,” he said. Kirby also said that the call was a direct response to airstrikes, for which Israel has taken responsibility, on a World Central Kitchen convoy on Monday night. Seven aid workers, including an American citizen, were killed. Israel has said that it is investigating the incident.

At press time, Netanyahu’s office had yet to release a statement about or a readout of his call with Biden.

Thursday’s call is the first publicly acknowledged time the two leaders have spoken since the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution in March that called for a ceasefire and the release of hostages. It did so in the same sentence but without explicitly tying the two together. That resolution passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining.

Biden used similar language on Thursday, per the White House readout.

“He underscored that an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians, and he urged the prime minister to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home,” the White House stated. 

Christians United for Israel issued a statement on what it said was reportedly “a tense phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during which the President demanded an immediate cease-fire to the war in Gaza.”

“President Biden is playing directly into the enemy’s hands by undermining Israel’s effort to defeat Hamas,” stated Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of CUFI.

“If the president wishes to help Israelis and Palestinians, he should do everything in his power to hasten the end of Hamas, not ensure their survival,” Hagee stated. “Placing demands on Israel is not the answer to peace in the Middle East, and never has been.”

“This war started after Hamas sent thousands of terrorists into Israel so they could rape and murder innocent Israelis,” added Sandra Parker, chairwoman of CUFI Action Fund.

“The Oct. 7 massacre will not advance Palestinian interests, and no one associated with that atrocity will escape justice,” Parker stated. “The sooner both the Biden administration and Congress understand those simple facts and act accordingly, the sooner Israel will defeat Hamas, rescue the hostages and restore stability to the region.”

‘No substitute for victory’

Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesperson, previously denied that the U.N. Security Council resolution had de-linked the release of hostages to a ceasefire, or that Washington’s abstention on the resolution reflected any change in U.S. policy.

“Today at the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. reaffirmed that any ceasefire must come as part of an agreement to release hostages,” he wrote in March.

Thursday’s phone call follows a videoconference between U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi to discuss a potential military ground operation in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Netanyahu Congress AIPAC
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with a delegation of Republican members of Congress organized by AIPAC at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on April 4, 2024. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO.

NBC reported on Wednesday that the meeting was “tense” with Dermer “yelling and waving his arms around” at U.S. counterparts over their criticism of Israel’s humanitarian plan for Rafah. The United States reportedly did not find the plan realistic and noted that it did not address sanitation, food, water or the full number of tents that would be required to house civilians.

Netanyahu told a visiting delegation of 15 Republican congressmen, whose trip AIPAC organized, on Thursday that Israel seeks final victory in the war against Hamas.

The 15 were Reps. Mark Alford (Mo.), Aaron Bean (Fla.), Eric Burlison (Mo.), Laurie Chavez-Deremer (Ore.), Juan Ciscomani (Ariz.), Eli Crane (Ariz.), Scott Fitzgerald (Wis.), Russell Fry (S.C.), Thomas Kean Jr. (N.J.), Jennifer Kiggans (Va.), Kevin Kiley (Calif.), Nick Langworthy (N.Y.), Celeste Maloy (Utah), Derrick Van Orden (Wis.) and Rudy Yakym (Ind.).

“We’re going to win. Absolutely,” Netanyahu told the members of Congress. “Victory is within reach. It’s very close, and there is no substitute for victory.”

“There is a contrary move, an attempt to force, ram down our throats a Palestinian state, which will be another terror haven, another launching ground for an attempt, as was the Hamas state in Gaza. That is opposed by Israelis, overwhelmingly,” Netanyahu added.

“We just had a vote in the Knesset: 99 to 9. Do you have those kinds of numbers?” he asked. “I think you might have those numbers if you bring that same resolution, that same resolution to the Congress. I think you’ll have a similar or at least a very powerful majority.”

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