Biden says no plans to address Knesset amid deepening public spat with Netanyahu

US president also says no meeting with PM in the works as reporters press him about Israel-Hamas war; State Department reveals transfer of massive flour shipment to Gaza has begun

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

US President Joe Biden looks on before speaking about the costs of living during an address at the YMCA Allard Center March 11, 2024, in Goffstown, New Hampshire. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
US President Joe Biden looks on before speaking about the costs of living during an address at the YMCA Allard Center March 11, 2024, in Goffstown, New Hampshire. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

US President Joe Biden told reporters he does not have any plans to address the Knesset, after saying over the weekend that he would be willing to do so to directly appeal to the Israeli public regarding his concerns over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war against the Hamas terror regime in Gaza.

After responding yes when asked in an MSNBC interview whether he would be willing to take the far-reaching step, he declined to provide any additional information.

On Monday, a member of the White House pool asked him if he has plans to address the Knesset. “No, not at this moment,” Biden responded.

Asked whether he has scheduled a meeting with Netanyahu, whom he last spoke with roughly two weeks ago, Biden said, “no.”

Pressed whether he plans to schedule such a meeting, Biden added, “We’ll see what happens.” In hot mic comments last week, the US president said he needed to have a “come to Jesus” talk with the premier.

Biden regularly takes questions from the White House pool while traveling to and from events. Over the past several months, a wildly disproportionate number of questions have been about Israel.

In the footage aired by MSNBC of its interview with Biden, nearly eight of the ten minutes were of questions regarding Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interviewed on Fox News on March 11, 2024 (Screen grab)

The US president’s latest comments came as he has taken an increasingly critical tone toward Netanyahu over the military campaign that Israel launched against Hamas following the October 7 terror onslaught. In an interview Monday, Netanyahu pushed back against Biden, saying the US criticism was encouraging Hamas and that Israelis were united behind the war’s aims.

Separately Monday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the process of transferring a massive shipment of flour sent by the US to Gaza has started, after it was held up by Israel for nearly two months.

Miller did not specify when trucks carrying this flour — capable of feeding 1.5 million Gazans for five months — began entering Gaza, but said during a briefing that Israel recently agreed to release flour from its Ashdod port and it had begun to “make its way into Gaza, something we have been supporting for some time.”

Netanyahu privately informed the Biden administration that Israel approved the shipment in early January. The White House announced the development on January 19.

The shipment arrived at the port in Ashdod, but Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich blocked its transfer to UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees, which came under fire in January over allegations that 12 of its staffers participated in the October 7 atrocities.

The flour is to be ferried into Gaza by the World Food Program, rather than via UNRWA, the official said.

Palestinians transport bags of flour on the back of trucks as humanitarian aid arrives in Gaza City on March 6, 2024. (AFP)

The delay has angered the Biden administration, which has repeatedly noted in recent weeks that Israel was violating the commitments it made to the president.

Miller said the release of the flour was one of several modest improvements seen in the Gaza humanitarian operation over the past several days.

He also said trucks carrying aid have been able to move around southern Gaza more freely than they were in recent weeks. There have also been convoys that successfully reached northern Gaza, where aid access has been particularly limited, Miller added.

Gaza aid distribution ground to a halt last month in the wake of a breakdown of law and order. After dozens of Palestinians were killed while trying to collect aid in northern Gaza on February 29, the Biden administration began airdropping aid into Gaza and announced the establishment of a marine corridor, which it aims to have up and running in two months.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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