Biden Takes a Tougher Stance on Israel's 'Indiscriminate Bombing' of Gaza

President Joe Biden speaks at a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. (Bonnie Cash/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned that Israel was losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing" of Gaza, speaking out in unusually strong language as the United Nations neared a vote on demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

“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 them,” Biden said to donors during a fundraiser Tuesday.

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

    The president said he thought Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understood, but he wasn't so sure about the Israeli war cabinet. Israeli forces were carrying out punishing strikes across Gaza, crushing Palestinians in homes as the military presses ahead with an offensive that officials say could go on for weeks or months.

    The president offered a harder-than-usual assessment of Israel's decisions since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and the moves by his conservative government. Biden's top national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, heads to Israel this week to consult directly.

    Biden specifically called out Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of a far-right Israeli party and the minister of national security in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, who opposes a two-state solution and has called for Israel to reassert control over all of the West Bank and Gaza. Ben-Gvir sits on Israel’s security cabinet, but is not a member of the country’s three-person war cabinet.

    The president also renewed his warnings that Israel should not make the same mistakes of overreaction that the U.S. did following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

    He recounted a familiar anecdote about inscribing on a photo with Netanyahu decades ago, “Bibi, I don't agree with a damn thing you have to say.” This time, the president added to his retelling of the story: “That remains to be the case.”

    The fundraiser was part of a gathering of Jewish donors, many of whom attended a White House Hanukkah reception on Monday evening.

    Asked about Biden’s comments, a senior Hamas official said in Beirut that “the resistance and the steadfastness of the Palestinian people have made Biden understand that the Israeli military operation is a crazy act.”

    “The repercussions (of the war) will be catastrophic on the entity (Israel) and on the results of elections in which Biden might lose his seat in the White House,” Osama Hamdan, member of Hamas' political bureau said during a news conference.

    Biden said that when he has warned Netanyahu of a loss of international support over the bombing, the Israeli leader has mentioned that the U.S. had “carpet-bombed Germany" in World War II and dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.

    “That's why all these institutions were set up after World War II, to see that it didn't happen again,” he said. “Don't make the same mistakes we made in 9/11. There's no reason we had to be in a war in Afghanistan. There's no reason we had to do so many things that we did.”

    The U.N. General Assembly was set to hold a vote Tuesday on a nonbinding resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, days after the U.S. vetoed a similar measure at the U.N. Security Council. The U.K abstained from the 13-1 vote, but France and Japan were among those supporting the call for a cease-fire. Only Security Council resolutions are legally binding under the terms of the international body’s charter.

    Before Biden's comments at the fundraiser, Netanyahu said in a statement that he appreciated American support and that he'd received “full backing for the ground incursion and blocking the international pressure to stop the war.”

    “Yes, there is disagreement about ‘the day after Hamas’ and I hope that we will reach agreement here as well. I would like to clarify my position: I will not allow Israel to repeat the mistake of Oslo. Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan.”

    Earlier Tuesday, Sullivan said he would speak with Netanyahu about timetables for ending major combat in Gaza, and that he would be carrying Biden’s thoughts on the matter. He said he would also be looking to hear from Netanyahu and Israeli officials on the issue.

    “The subject of how they are seeing the timetable of this war will certainly be on the agenda for my meetings,” Sullivan said during an appearance at a forum hosted by the Wall Street Journal.

    Sullivan suggested that at some point there would be a shift from the high-intensity Israeli operations seen over the last several weeks to more focused operations to achieve Israeli objectives. He also said he would also speak to Netanyahu about his recent comments that Israel Defense Forces would maintain open-ended security control of Gaza after the war ends.

    Sullivan reiterated the Biden administration's position that it does not want to see Israel reoccupy Gaza or further shrink its already small territory. The U.S. has repeatedly called for a return of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and the resumption of peace talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

    “I will have the opportunity to talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu about what exactly he has in mind with that comment, because that can be interpreted in a number of different ways,” Sullivan said. “But the U.S. position on this is clear.”

    Associated Press writers Will Weissert, Zeke Miller in Washington and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

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