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In 45-minute call, Biden gives Netanyahu ultimatum over Israeli conduct in Gaza War

President says US policy to be tied to Israeli response to humanitarian situation

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in this White House handout image taken in the Oval Office in Washington, April 4, 2024. (Photo: The White House/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. President Joe Biden issued an ultimatum to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take concrete steps to protect Palestinian civilians and foreign aid workers in Gaza, or risk a shift in U.S. support for Israel in its war against Hamas. 

During their first phone call since an alleged Israeli airstrike mistakenly killed 7 workers from the World Central Kitchen aid group, triggering global outrage, President Biden warned Netanyahu that U.S. policy regarding aid to Israel would be contingent on Israeli actions, saying the attack which killed 7 humanitarian workers was “intolerable.” 

On Friday, Israel announced the removal of two senior officers from their posts and reprimanded three other senior officers who shared in the responsibility after an internal investigation into the killing.

Biden also called for Israel to "announce and implement a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers."

The U.S. president did not specify exactly what steps he plans for Israel to take but implied threats like slowing U.S. arms transfers to Israel or reducing support at the United Nations. The position expressed by Biden is regarded by some as a potential turning point in his stance, as he has so far resisted conditioning military aid to Israel during the war, despite pressure from progressive Democrats over the Palestinian civilian death toll. 

The call came as the U.S. has been pressuring Israel to consider alternatives to planned ground operations in Rafah, the last stronghold for Hamas, where it maintains around four more battalions. Israel also believes that most of the surviving hostages are located in Rafah and has insisted that a military incursion there is essential.

Rafah also has a large population of Gaza civilian evacuees. Authorities estimate that there are currently 1.4 million people in Rafah, with most being evacuees from other areas of the Gaza Strip. 

Biden also expressed concern over the civilian death toll in Israel’s operations in Gaza to this point. According to the Hamas-owned Gaza Health Ministry, over 33,000 Palestinians have been killed so far. While Hamas claims that the deaths are mostly civilians, Israel disputes the claim, saying it has killed around 14,000 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorists. 

Biden told Netanyahu that "an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians" and urged the prime minister to "conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home."

Analysts suggest Biden may have reached his limit of tolerance for the poor optics of the situation, as a younger and more left-leaning generation of Democrats does not agree with his support for Israel. Some analysts have suggested that Biden feels increasingly pressured to demonstrate a firmer stance against Israel in the election year, as he runs against former U.S. President Donald Trump. 

Following the phone call, the Israeli war cabinet announced steps to increase aid flow into the Gaza Strip, opening the Erez Crossing Point in the northern Gaza Strip, which had previously been closed after being damaged by Hamas fighters on Oct. 7. 

“This increased aid will prevent a humanitarian crisis and is necessary to ensure the continuation of the fighting and the achievement of the war's goals. In light of this, Israel will allow the temporary delivery of humanitarian aid through Ashdod and the Erez checkpoint and the increase of Jordanian aid through Kerem Shalom,” according to a statement released by the war cabinet.

White House National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson welcomed the announcement, saying: “As the president said today on the call, U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these and other steps, including steps to protect innocent civilians and the safety of aid workers.” 

She called for the plan to be “fully and rapidly implemented.” 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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