Biden Demands Israel Do the Impossible
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has to change,” U.S. President Joe Biden insisted Tuesday at a campaign fundraiser, but “this government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move.” Biden said Netanyahu — whom he called by his nickname, “Bibi” — should buck his own government, empower the Palestinian Authority (PA), and achieve a lasting, two-state solution, all while simultaneously exterminating Hamas. But Biden’s objectives, and his reasons for elevating them, poorly reflect the true situation in Israel.
“This is the most conservative government in Israel’s history,” Biden complained, “the most conservative.” The president named Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar “Ben-Gvir and company” as the problem, arguing that “they don’t want anything remotely approaching a two-state solution.”
The president’s talking point is a couple months out-of-date. On October 12, days after Hamas’s terror attack, Israel’s legislature approved an emergency wartime government, in which five members of the centrist National Unity coalition joined Netanyahu’s cabinet. (Such a move is the equivalent of Americans “rallying around the flag” in a multi-party parliamentary system of government.) The Times of Israel reported that the additions were “meant to add decades of high-level security experience to the management of the war and isolate far-Right influence.”
Biden identified “one of the things that Bibi understands … but I’m not sure Ben-Gvir and his War Cabinet do.” He explained, “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 Europe, it has most of the world supporting it. But they’re starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place.”
If “most of the world” supports Israel, they have a funny way of showing it. On October 27, before Israel had even invaded the Gaza Strip in order to vanquish Hamas following their October 7 terror attack, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted 120-14 for a resolution calling for “an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.” The UNGA also voted down an amendment to that resolution that would include an explicit condemnation of Hamas. When put to a vote, most of the nations in the world refused to condemn Hamas’s brutal terror attack, but they did condemn Israel’s intention to fight back.
Nor is Biden’s claim that, “Israel’s security can rest on the United States,” as ironclad as it once was. Biden’s mischaracterization of Israel’s civilian-conscious war efforts as “indiscriminate bombing” has to shake the confidence of Israel’s leaders that America truly supports them in the conflict. Additionally, if Israel learned any lesson from the October 7 attack, it was that Israelis can never rest securely, with or without U.S. backing, so long as their avowed enemies are fortified in the Gaza Strip. If the U.S. won’t support them to do the job thoroughly, Israel has apparently decided, the job still must get done.
Netanyahu has reportedly registered protests with Biden over what he perceives as unfair criticism. “It was pointed out to me that — by Bibi — that, ‘Well, you carpet-bombed Germany. You dropped the atom bomb. A lot of civilians died,’” Biden 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 was referring to the 1949 Geneva Convention, which created rules to protect civilians in wartime — rules which Israel follows but Russia ignores.
Biden’s rebuttal didn’t really address the comparison. Netanyahu could have made the same point with examples of U.S. bombing since 1949, such as in Vietnam and surrounding countries, in Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan, and in Syria. The point is, civilized nations like the U.S. and Israel try to avoid civilian casualties when possible, but they must still do what is necessary to destroy the enemy. When an uncivilized enemy deliberately hides among civilians, as Hamas does, then civilian casualties will inevitably be higher.
In the speech, Biden reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine — an ideal that has failed to become a reality despite 80 years of trying. (Mostly, this is due to the Palestinian Authority repeatedly rejecting peace proposals that offered them their own state and failing to halt terrorism.) Yet Biden insisted again, “You cannot say there’s no Palestinian state at all in the future.”
Instead of pressuring the Palestinians to accept a realistic two-state solution, Biden seemed to place the responsibility on Israel, and to suggest that Netanyahu agreed with this bizarre construction. “Bibi understands that he’s got to make some moves to strengthen PLA [PA] — strengthen it, change it, move it,” Biden said. Got it? It’s Israel’s job to strengthen, change, and move the Palestinian Authority, its chief negotiating rival, transforming it into an organization worthy of legitimately governing the independent Palestinian state Biden wants.
One fundamental problem with the two-state solution, from Biden’s perspective, is that the PA is too weak, corrupt, and incompetent to hold the government together. “The Palestinians have been not governed well at all,” Biden admitted.
These factors combine to make it quite unpopular. In polling conducted during the recent Thanksgiving ceasefire, 88% of Palestinians wanted the PA’s longtime leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to resign, and nearly 60% said the PA should be dissolved entirely. In a hypothetical electoral matchup, the polling showed Abbas would be trounced in a two-way race by exiled Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh, while both men would lose a three-way race to an imprisoned paramilitary leader, Marwan Barghouti.
Another problem that complicates the PA’s weakness is that terrorism is surprisingly popular in the Palestinian territories. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2006 and Palestinians held their first and only free elections, Hamas won a parliamentary majority (before seizing complete power in 2007 in a bloody coup).
Nearly two decades later, a new generation of Palestinians have grown up in Hamas-run schools with pro-terror textbooks; it turns out that many Palestinians are still pro-terrorism. Only 10% of Palestinians told pollsters they believed Hamas had committed war crimes against Israel in its October 7 attack, while 57% of Gazan respondents and 82% in the West Bank believe the attack was justified. Despite their military defeats in Gaza, Hamas still enjoys 44% support in the West Bank and 42% in the Gaza Strip — an increase from before the war began and a larger percentage than President Biden currently enjoys (37%) in America.
In other words, if a Palestinian state were established, and a representative government were freely elected, there’s a significant chance the resulting government would favor continued terrorist attacks against Israel. It’s simply not a workable option right now. Instead of giving up on the idea, or at least placing it on the back burner, Biden has arrived at the bizarre conclusion that it is Israel’s responsibility to rehabilitate the PA as a legitimate partner with whom it can co-govern Palestine.
Even more bizarrely, Biden expressed his hope that domestic unrest in Israel would force the government to change its position. He hoped there would be protests similar to “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.’” The president added, “That wasn’t any outside influence. That came from within Israel.” When Netanyahu proposed constitutional reforms to rein in left-wing activist judges, demonstrators erupted into BLM-style riots; the controversy so sharpened political divisions that for a while the country had no functioning government. This is not something any nation would wish to happen to a close ally.
Besides the propriety of Biden’s wish, it’s highly unlikely the Israeli people will grant it. Even before the Hamas terror attack, in March-April 2023 Pew Research found that only 35% of Israelis believe Israel and Palestine can coexist peacefully.
Support for peace negotiations with the PA dropped sharply to only 24.5% after the October 7 terror attack, compared to 47.6% in September. According to the polling conducted in October (before Israel’s ground invasion, but just before the U.N. called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire), only 1.8% of Israelis believed the IDF was using too much firepower, while 57.5% said it wasn’t using enough firepower. By the end of November, a plurality of Israelis opposed pursuing a two-state solution as a condition for receiving U.S. aid (47% against versus 39% for it).
“So, folks, there’s a lot to do,” Biden concluded. “First and foremost, do everything in our power to hold Hamas accountable. … But, secondly, we have to work toward bringing Israel together in a way that provides for the beginning of an option of a two-state solution.”
The proposal is ridiculous enough to raise questions about whether Biden is really sincere about supporting Israel and defeating Hamas.
Biden said that he is. “There’s no question about the need to take on Hamas,” Biden warned. “It’s an existential threat to Israel — its very existence.” Biden added that “the literal security of Israel as an independent Jewish state is literally at stake,” and “without Israel as a freestanding state, not a Jew in the world is safe.” The proposal would be comical if the stakes weren’t so deadly serious.
To summarize, here’s Biden’s strategy in a concise list. Step one: persuade the Israeli public to agree to a two-state solution. Step two: have the Israeli public pressure the government with social unrest until it agrees to a two-state solution. Step three: have the Israeli government rehabilitate a key rival, the Palestinian Authority, so that the second state would have a credible governing body. (The omitted Step 4: persuade the Palestinian people to renounce terrorism and peacefully coexist with Israel.) And don’t forget Step 0: obliterate Hamas in Gaza without hurting any of the civilians they hide behind or without violating the civilian infrastructure they shelter in. Easy as pie.
Here’s hoping Bibi has a cape hidden under that suit, because he would have to be a superhero to achieve what Biden expects of him.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.