Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defied calls from US President Joe Biden to support the establishment of a Palestinian state, declaring “there’s no space for a Palestinian state” in Israel’s postwar plans for Gaza. The divergence signals a growing rift between the two allies as they struggle to restore calm after nearly a month of conflict.
Biden Urges Two-State Solution in Call with Netanyahu
On Thursday, Biden spoke by phone with Netanyahu for the first time since 11 days of devastating conflict erupted between Israel and Hamas on May 5th. While reaffirming US support for Israel’s right to self defense, Biden also pushed Netanyahu to embrace the two-state solution – longstanding American policy that calls for an independent Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel.
However, in public remarks on Friday, Netanyahu flatly rejected the creation of any Palestinian sovereignty, prompting rare criticism from the White House.
“The reports of the demise of the two-state solution are premature,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre, underscoring Biden’s continued commitment to Palestinian statehood despite Netanyahu’s opposition.
The US remains Israel’s closest ally, providing nearly $4 billion in annual military aid. But Biden has limited patience for hardline policies that undermine the two-state solution, which much of the international community regards as the only path to a just and lasting peace.
Jewish Democrats Denounce Netanyahu’s Rejection of Palestinian State
A group of 15 Jewish Democrats in the US House of Representatives issued a scathing letter condemning Netanyahu’s disavowal of Palestinian statehood, accusing him of “contradicting long-held policies of both U.S. Republican and Democratic administrations.”
“Your statements directly undermine ongoing efforts by the Biden administration to advance peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians,” the lawmakers wrote.
While Netanyahu enjoys robust support from Republicans in Congress, Democrats have grown increasingly willing to break with Israel over policies seen as obstructing the two-state solution. There are also growing calls from progressive lawmakers to condition military aid based on changes to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Senator Ben Cardin, a senior Democrat, predicts that Netanyahu will ultimately soften his stance under pressure from the Biden administration. But the Israeli leader remains defiant, at least publicly. After four bitter wars with Hamas-led militants in Gaza since 2009, Netanyahu believes the time for Palestinian statehood has passed.
Israel Intends Postwar Control of Gaza
According to Israeli officials, Netanyahu told Biden “there cannot be any return to the previous situation” in Gaza after Israel’s devastating bombardment of militant groups there. Israel now intends to exercise full security control over Gaza to prevent Hamas from rearming itself with more sophisticated weapons.
Rather than sovereignty, the Israelis are willing to offer economic aid that improves living conditions in Gaza. But analysts say permanently tightening the blockade on 2 million Gazans will only breed more militancy and bloodshed, continuing the cycle of violence.
“If you deny hope and you deny economic opportunities to 2 million Gazans, I think you’re going to get more terror, more rockets,” warns Senator Chris Murphy.
Biden has pledged over $100 million in new humanitarian assistance for Gaza, but insists economic prosperity is impossible without Palestinian statehood. “The United States remains committed to a two-state solution,” Jean-Pierre reiterated on Friday.
Israel Unlikely to Shift Stance Before March Elections
With crucial parliamentary elections just two months away, Netanyahu is playing to his right-wing base by adopting a defiant posture toward external pressure over Palestinian statehood.
Opinion polls show his Likud Party deadlocked with centrist rivals who would be more amenable to Biden’s two-state vision. As the election approaches, Netanyahu cannot afford to give his opponents an opening to attack him as weak in standing up for Israel’s security.
That suggests no breakthrough is likely before Israelis head to the ballots on March 25th. But Biden can still exert leverage on the Israeli leader after the elections conclude. Much could hinge on whether Netanyahu secures another term or whether a new centrist coalition emerges that charts a more moderate course.
For now, the growing divide between ally leaders signals that negotiating an enduring ceasefire and reconstruction aid for Gaza could be a lengthy, contentious process. But both the US and Israel share an overriding interest in restoring calm after years of recurring bloodshed.
In the short term, the Biden administration will likely continue pushing Netanyahu behind closed doors to revive hopes for Palestinian statehood, while refraining from overt public pressure in the midst of sensitive Israeli elections.
Securing a long-term ceasefire in Gaza also remains a pressing priority. Israel’s blockade lies at the heart of recurring conflict, and without easing restrictions or offering economic hopes, militants are likely to replenish their arsenals before too long.
If Netanyahu secures reelection, he would gain a mandate empowering him to resist compromise over Palestinian statehood. A leadership change could open more room for progress. Either way, the two-state solution still garners broad international backing and remains official US policy – support that is unlikely to dissipate anytime soon.
- Growing divide between Biden & Netanyahu over Palestinian statehood
- Jewish Democrats break with Israel over Netanyahu’s rejection of two-state policy
- Israel intends to control Gaza security post-war, denying Palestinian sovereignty
- Netanyahu playing to base ahead of tight March 25 elections in Israel
- Short term focus on ceasefire & Gaza reconstruction aid
- Two-state solution retains international backing despite Israeli opposition
Overall the growing rift between allies signals that negotiating lasting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be a lengthy, turbulent process in the months and years ahead. But the two-state solution remains the guiding framework endorsed by much of the world.
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