WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden said the creation of an independent state for Palestinians is not impossible while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still in office, and that the two leaders discussed the issue during their phone call on Friday.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with US mayors, Biden was asked directly whether a two-state solution was impossible with Netanyahu still in office.
“No it’s not,” the president replied.
He was then asked: “Are you going to reconsider conditions on Israel aid given what Bibi [Netanyahu] said on a two-state solution?” (The Israeli prime minister reiterated and detailed his opposition to Palestinian sovereignty during a press conference on Thursday.)
Said Biden: “I think we’ll be able to work something out.”
Asked how this could be done, the president intimated that there might be “types” of two-state solutions that Netanyahu may not be opposed to: “There are a number of types of two-state solutions. There’s a number of countries that are members of the UN that are still — don’t have their own militaries. Number of states that have limitations on [inaudible]. And so I think there’s ways in which this could work.”
The reporter then told Biden that “Bibi just said he’s opposed to any two-state solution.”
“No, he didn’t say that,” Biden asserted.
Asked what Netanyahu was open to, Biden said: “I’ll let you know.”
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Biden’s comments came shortly after he and Netanyahu spoke for the first time in 27 days.
There has been growing daylight between Jerusalem and Washington over the war in Gaza, which Israel launched in response to the Hamas-led onslaught on October 7, when Palestinian terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 hostages. Netanyahu has rejected Biden’s vision for a post-war Gaza, which would be reunited politically with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority’s rule as part of a broader diplomatic initiative aimed at an eventual two-state solution and an expanded Abraham Accords.
While Netanyahu has ruled out the notion of establishing a Palestinian state, he has offered few details on his alternative vision for Gaza while blocking the cabinet from holding discussions on the matter, knowing that it risks collapsing his coalition.
“Whoever is talking about the ‘day after Netanyahu,’” Netanyahu said during the press conference on Thursday, “is essentially talking about the establishment of a Palestinian state with the Palestinian Authority.” (NBC had reported on Wednesday that the US administration was “laying the groundwork with other Israeli leaders in anticipation of a post-Netanyahu government.”)
Most Israeli citizens are opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu said, and he would always resist it.
“All territory we evacuate, we get terror, terrible terror against us,” he said, citing Gaza, southern Lebanon and parts of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Therefore, “in any future arrangement, or in the absence of an arrangement,” he said, Israel must maintain “security control” of all territory west of the Jordan River — meaning, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. “That is a vital condition.”
He acknowledged that this “contradicts the idea of sovereignty [for the Palestinians]. What can you do? I tell this truth to our American friends.”
Nonetheless, Netanyahu asserted that his stance would not prevent Israel from expanding the circle of peace to new Arab countries, “along with our American friends.”
Netanyahu reportedly rejected a US proposal, presented by Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he visited earlier this month, that would have seen Saudi Arabia help with the reconstruction of Gaza along with several other Arab countries in addition to agreeing to normalize ties with Israel, on the condition that Jerusalem agree to take steps to create a pathway to an eventual Palestinian state.
UK Opposition Leader Keir Starmer also hit out Friday at Netanyahu for opposing Palestinian sovereignty, calling the premier’s comments “unacceptable and wrong.”
“Palestinian statehood is not in the gift of a neighbor, it’s the inalienable right of the Palestinian people. It’s also the only way to a secure settlement and a secure future,” Starmer told ITV News.
US says Israel to let flour into Gaza via Ashdod port
During Friday’s phone call, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Biden and Netanyahu discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages held in Gaza.
“The two leaders also reviewed the situation in Gaza and the shift to targeted operations that will enable the flow of increasing amounts of humanitarian assistance, while keeping the military pressure on Hamas and its leaders significant,” Kirby said.
Biden stressed “Israel’s responsibility — even as it maintains military pressure on Hamas and its leaders — to reduce civilian harm and to protect innocent civilians,” Kirby said.
The US president also told Netanyahu that he welcomed the decision by the Israeli government to permit the entry of large shipments of flour into Gaza via Israel’s port in Ashdod, Kirby said, adding that the sides “are separately working on options for more direct maritime delivery of assistance into Gaza.”
Kirby’s remark appeared to be the first time that Israel has used its Ashdod port to transfer aid to Gaza and came days after Hebrew media reported that Israel agreed earlier this month to allow 150 truckloads of flour into Gaza, where the UN says there is a growing risk of famine.
Israel has refrained from announcing this decision regarding the flour shipments itself ostensibly due to its unpopular nature among large swaths of the public, given that the hostages remain in Gaza.
Three UN agencies — the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) — pushed for the opening of Ashdod in a joint statement on Monday.
The use of Ashdod, located some 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the Gaza border, is “critically needed by aid agencies,” they said, while calling for a “fundamental step change in the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”
Opening the Ashdod port would reduce the time it takes to transport food to Gazans from the north, WFP’s regional director for the Middle East, Corinne Fleischer, told AFP earlier this month.
In December, Israel approved the temporary delivery of aid into Gaza via its southern Kerem Shalom border crossing, opening a new route for supplies after weeks of pressure.