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Netanyahu and Biden speak as divides sharpen on Palestinian state, Rafah operation

Amid growing tensions between the two leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden spoke by phone for 40 minutes Thursday evening, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

  • An official in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel that the two discussed the hostages taken during the October 7 onslaught, Rafah and the next stage in the fight against Hamas, and touched on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

A White House statement also said the pair talked about hostage negotiations, conditions in Gaza and the prospect of an Israeli military operation in Rafah, the last Hamas stronghold in the enclave, where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have fled to seek shelter from fighting elsewhere.

“The president reaffirmed his commitment to working tirelessly to support the release of all hostages as soon as possible, recognizing their appalling situation after 132 days in Hamas captivity,” the readout said.

  • “The president and the prime minister also discussed the situation in Gaza, and the urgency of ensuring that humanitarian assistance is able to get to Palestinian civilians in desperate need.”

On Rafah, the statement said Biden “reiterated his view that a military operation should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the civilians in Rafah.”

  • The conversation came as Netanyahu met with CIA chief William Burns, the war cabinet and the full national security cabinet tonight, with Hebrew media reporting the premier stepped out of the meeting to take the call.

After the call, Netanyahu released a statement in the middle of the night insisting that Israel will not be pressured into accepting a Palestinian state.

“My positions can be summarized in the following two sentences,” said Netanyahu,

  • “Israel categorically rejects international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. Such an arrangement will be reached only through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions.”
  • In addition, said the prime minister, “Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7 massacre would give a huge reward to unprecedented terrorism and prevent any future peace settlement.”

The prime minister’s comments followed a report that said US and several Arab partners are preparing a detailed plan for a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that includes a “firm timeline” for a Palestinian state, sparking immediate denunciations from senior members of Netanyahu’s cabinet and a spokesman for his office.

  • According to the Washington Post report, citing US and Arab officials, an announcement on the blueprint could come in the next few weeks, though the timing is largely dependent on Israel and Hamas being able to reach a deal to pause the fighting in Gaza.

Netanyahu has in the past spoken out against the creation of a Palestinian state and others have also pushed back against comments from Washington and elsewhere suggesting that talks on ending fighting in Gaza sparked by Hamas’s brutal rampage through southern Israel on October 7 be used to jumpstart long-moribund efforts to reach a two-state solution.

The attack, in which some 1,200 people were killed in a paroxysm of murder, rape and other atrocities led by the Hamas terror group which rules Gaza, and 253 others were kidnapped and held hostage, distilled for many Israelis the security challenges long cited as a reason to oppose Palestinian statehood.

 

News of the plan came as the US and others have ramped up warnings against Israel expanding its ground offensive in Gaza to Rafah. According to the Post, those behind the plan, including Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Palestinian representatives, as well as the United States, fear that an IDF ground offensive in Gaza’s Rafah will derail the potential for a peace process.

Despite the potential danger to the civilian population, Netanyahu announced Friday that he had ordered the Israeli military to present the government’s war cabinet with a plan to both evacuate the city’s civilian population and destroy Hamas’s remaining battalions in the area.

Israel believes it cannot effectively weaken Hamas without taking Rafah, which sits on Gaza’s border with Egypt. At least some of the 134 hostages remaining in Gaza are thought to be in the city; on Monday, special forces rescued two Israeli hostages from captivity in an apartment in Rafah, amid a bombardment that killed dozens, according to Hamas health authorities in Gaza.

Source: TOI