'You can't say there’s no Palestinian state at all in the future'

Biden: ‘Indiscriminate’ bombing costing Israel support, Netanyahu ‘has to change’

President says Ben Gvir, far-right shackling PM, who must strengthen PA; vows to help Israel ‘finish the job’ against Hamas ‘animals’; IDF: We distinguish between Hamas and civilians

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

President Joe Biden meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, September 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, September 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — In a striking critique, US President Joe Biden on Tuesday went after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his hardline coalition over their opposition to a two-state solution, while warning that Israel was losing global support due to its “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza.

Netanyahu is “a good friend, but I think he has to change, and… This government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move,” Biden said during a campaign fundraiser in Washington hosted by former AIPAC board chair Lee Rosenberg.

In his remarks, Biden criticized far-right National Security Minister Ben Gvir by name and rehashed a line he used in July: “This is the most conservative government in Israel’s history.”

He said he has known Israeli leaders for decades, lamenting that “Ben Gvir and company and the new folks don’t want anything remotely approaching a two-state solution.”

“They not only want to have retribution — which they should — for what Hamas did, but against all Palestinians… They don’t want anything to with the Palestinians,” Biden said, reiterating the US stance that Hamas does not represent all Palestinians and that not all of Gaza should suffer because of the terror group’s brutal October 7 attack on Israel, during which 1,200 people were massacred and some 240 were taken hostage.

Biden also took a shot at Palestinian leaders, though, he did not specify whether he was referring to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. “The Palestinians have been not governed well at all.”

File: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Nov. 30, 2023 (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, Pool)

Referring to the planned rail and shipping corridor linking India with the Middle East and Europe that the US unveiled in September, Biden said there remains an “opportunity to begin to unite the region.”

“They still want to do it, but we have to make sure that Bibi understands that he’s got to make some moves to strengthen the [PA],” Biden said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

“You cannot say there’s no Palestinian state at all in the future,” Biden said.

“We have to work toward bringing Israel together in a way that provides for the beginning of… a two-state solution,” he added.

Netanyahu has intensified his rhetoric against Ramallah since the outbreak of the war, telling a top Knesset panel on Monday that the only difference between the PA and Hamas is that the former wants to destroy Israel in stages while the latter wants to do so immediately.

The increased attacks on the PA, which the US and the international community want to rule Gaza after the war in a precursor to an eventual Palestinian state, has the Biden administration increasingly convinced that Netanyahu has entered “campaign mode,” two US officials told The Times of Israel earlier this week.

FILE – US President Joe Biden (right) is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Biden went on to suggest that domestic pressure could cause Netanyahu to move in the direction of two states, noting the protests earlier this year that managed to thwart parts of the judicial overhaul being advanced by his government.

“You saw what happened when Bibi tried to change the Supreme Court. Thousands of IDF soldiers said, ‘We’re out. We’re not going to participate. We’re not going to support the military,'” he said, referring to the thousands of reservists who protested the overhaul.

“That wasn’t any outside influence. That came from within Israel,” Biden said.

“Israel has a tough decision to make. Bibi has got a tough decision to make. There’s no question about the need to take on Hamas. None. Zero. They have every right,” he said, acknowledging that Israel currently faces “an existential threat.”

“We’re not going to do a damn thing other than protect Israel… [and ensure they have] what they need to defend themselves and to finish the job against Hamas,” Biden continued, referring to the Gaza-ruling terror organization as “animals” who “exceeded anything that any other terrorist group has done… in memory.”

Still, Biden stressed the importance of protecting civilians while prosecuting the war against Hamas.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir in southern Tel Aviv, September 3, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The US president recalled how during one of their many conversations since October 7, Netanyahu sought to justify the deaths of civilians in Gaza by recalling how many died in the US response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“You carpet-bombed Germany. You dropped the atom bomb. A lot of civilians died,” Biden quoted Netanyahu as having said.

“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s why all these institutions were set up after World War II to see to it that it didn’t happen again,'” Biden said he told Netanyahu in response.

“Don’t make the same mistakes we made [after] 9/11. There was no reason why we had to be in a war in Afghanistan [after] 9/11. There was no reason why we had to do some of the things we did,” Biden said.

“One of the things that Bibi understands — but I’m not sure Ben Gvir and his war cabinet do,” Biden continued, “is that Israel’s security can rest on the United States. But right now it has more than the United States — it has the European Union, it has most of the world supporting it.”

“But they’re starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place,” Biden said.

Last month, Biden also used the word “indiscriminate” to describe Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza. However, he was referring to the early stage of the war and indicated that the IDF bombardment has been more pinpointed since. His comments at the fundraiser revealed that he no longer thinks that is the case.

Responding to Biden’s characterization of the Israeli military’s bombing in Gaza, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the army distinguishes between Hamas operatives and civilians and is in close contact with the US to demonstrate as much directly.

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