In an assertive move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firmly rebuffed appeals from the United States, rejecting calls to temper Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip and to consider steps toward establishing a Palestinian state post-conflict. This categorical stance immediately elicited a stern reprimand from the White House.
This stark exchange highlights the widening schism between the two nations regarding the scale of Israel’s military operations and its future intentions for the embattled region.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged the divergence in perspectives, stating, “We obviously see it differently.”
Netanyahu’s remarks followed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s assertion that without a clear path to Palestinian sovereignty, Israel’s security would remain elusive. The White House had recently deemed it the “right time” for Israel to de-escalate its intense military campaign in Gaza.
During a national broadcast on Thursday, Netanyahu adopted an unwavering stance, insisting that Israel’s military efforts would persist until the objectives of dismantling Gaza’s Hamas militant faction and securing the release of all hostages were achieved.
He dismissed growing domestic criticism questioning the feasibility of these aims, expressing a commitment to prolong the campaign. Netanyahu declared, “We will not settle for anything short of absolute victory.”
The conflict was triggered by a major incursion by Hamas on October 7, resulting in 1,200 fatalities and the abduction of around 250 individuals. It is believed that approximately 130 hostages are still under Hamas control. The conflict has heightened regional tensions, raising concerns about additional conflicts erupting.
The Israeli offensive, one of the most lethal in recent memory, has led to nearly 25,000 Palestinian deaths, according to Gaza’s health authorities. The campaign has caused massive destruction and displaced over 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents.
The war’s devastating toll has amplified international demands for a cessation of hostilities. Initially, the United States provided unwavering support to Israel but has since voiced reservations, urging Netanyahu to articulate his vision for Gaza’s future.
The US has advocated for the rejuvenation of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in Gaza, from which Hamas seized control in 2007, and has called for progress toward the formation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians aspire to establish their state in Gaza, the West Bank, and east Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in 1967.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Blinken emphasized the two-state solution as the optimal path for safeguarding Israel, aligning moderate Arab nations, and marginalizing Iran. He stressed that without a “pathway to a Palestinian state,” Israel’s security remains unattainable.
At the same forum, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister expressed readiness to normalize relations with Israel, contingent on a peace agreement that includes a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu, leading a government averse to Palestinian statehood, reiterated his opposition to the two-state solution, arguing that a Palestinian state would serve as a base for assaults against Israel.
He contended that Israel must maintain security control over all territories west of the Jordan River, acknowledging the inherent conflict with the notion of sovereignty. Netanyahu conveyed this stance to American counterparts, resisting pressures that he believes could jeopardize Israel’s security.
The White House swiftly responded to Netanyahu’s comments, with Kirby affirming President Joe Biden’s unwavering commitment to pursuing a two-state solution.
The October 7 attack has galvanized Israeli society behind the war effort, yet divisions over Netanyahu’s war strategy are resurfacing.
Calls for a new ceasefire, aimed at securing the release of hostages, are growing. During a brief truce in November, Hamas released over 100 hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
In Tel Aviv, a somber event was held in solidarity with the family of Kfir Bibas, marking his first birthday in captivity. Kfir, his brother Ariel, and their parents, Shiri and Yarden, are among those held by Hamas.
Questions are mounting about the realism of Netanyahu’s goals, given the slow progress of the offensive and mounting international criticism, including genocide allegations at the U.N. world court, which Israel staunchly denies.
Critics accuse Netanyahu of postponing discussions on postwar plans to evade scrutiny over potential governmental failures, maintain his coalition, and delay elections. Polls indicate a significant decline in Netanyahu’s popularity amid the ongoing conflict.
There’s uncertainty regarding the distribution of medicines, part of a France- and Qatar-brokered agreement, to hostages with chronic illnesses held by Hamas.
The deal, the first since November, also includes substantial aid for Palestinian civilians. While Qatar confirmed the entry of medicines into Gaza, their distribution to hostages in undisclosed locations, including underground bunkers, remains unclear.
The Red Cross, instrumental in facilitating previous hostage releases, stated its non-involvement in the medicine distribution.
Despite the devastation, Hamas continues to resist across Gaza and launch rockets into Israel, insisting on a permanent ceasefire for any further hostage releases, a stance Israel and the US reject.
As thousands of Palestinians seek refuge in southern Gaza, the UN-run shelters are overwhelmed, and vast tent camps have emerged.
Israel persists in targeting what it claims are militant sites across Gaza, often resulting in civilian casualties. An Israeli airstrike in Rafah reportedly claimed 16 lives, including children.
Israel attributes the high civilian death toll to Hamas’s tactics of operating within densely populated areas. Israel asserts its forces have neutralized approximately 9,000 militants, a claim unsubstantiated by evidence, and acknowledges the loss of 193 soldiers since the ground offensive began.
The conflict’s repercussions are felt throughout the Middle East, with Iranian-backed factions targeting U.S. and Israeli interests. Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon are simmering, and Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to disrupt international shipping, despite U.S.-led airstrikes.
The Israeli military reported intercepting a “suspicious aerial target” over the Red Sea, likely a drone or missile, prompting air raid alarms in Eilat. Most Houthi-launched drones and missiles aimed at Israel have been successfully neutralized.
Concurrently, Iran has initiated missile strikes targeting alleged Israeli intelligence facilities in Iraq and militant bases in Syria.
As the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East remains highly volatile, the escalating tensions between Israel and the United States add another layer of complexity to an already intricate web of regional conflicts.
The international community watches closely, grappling with the challenge of finding a diplomatic resolution to a crisis that reverberates far beyond the borders of Israel and Palestine.