Since the Hamas attack on October 7th, President Biden has consistently shown unwavering support for Israel. Despite taking a political hit in an election year, Biden has provided unprecedented military and diplomatic backing to the nation.
While this support has remained public, behind the scenes, there are signs that Biden’s patience is wearing thin, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
Growing frustration in Biden administration
“The situation sucks, and we are stuck. The president’s patience is running out,” expresses one U.S. official, highlighting the increasing frustration within the Biden administration regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s responses to their requests.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, who has been closely connected with U.S. officials regarding the conflict, reveals, “At every juncture, Netanyahu has given Biden the finger.”
This lack of cooperation has left the U.S. administration pleading with Netanyahu’s coalition, only to be met with disappointment.
Biden’s frustration is mirrored in the fact that he hasn’t spoken to Netanyahu in the past 20 days, a significant shift from their nearly daily interactions during the initial two months of the conflict.
Discord over Palestinian tax revenues
Their last conversation on December 23rd ended on a tense note, with Biden declaring, “This conversation is over.”
The reason behind this discord was Netanyahu’s refusal to release Palestinian tax revenues, a move that strained their relationship.
While National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby tried to downplay the decrease in communication, stating that “it doesn’t say anything” about the state of the relationship, there’s no denying the growing frustration within the administration.
“There is immense frustration,” acknowledges a U.S. official. The primary source of Biden’s frustration lies in Netanyahu’s reluctance to address key U.S. priorities.
Concerns about Israel’s timeline in Gaza
Beyond the issue of tax revenue, the administration believes Israel is not doing enough to facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Furthermore, there is disappointment in Netanyahu’s unwillingness to engage in discussions about post-conflict plans, particularly concerning a reformed Palestinian Authority’s role in post-Hamas Gaza.
U.S. officials are becoming increasingly concerned that Israel may not meet its timeline to transition to low-intensity operations in Gaza by the end of January.
This is particularly concerning given the situation in Gaza, especially in the southern city of Khan Younis.
Challenges in maintaining support for Israel’s military campaign
Failure to scale down operations in Gaza could strain Biden’s ability to maintain the same level of support for Israel’s military campaign, as it could lead to more Palestinian casualties.
The administration’s focus remains on ensuring Israel’s defense against Hamas while seeking to increase aid to Gaza to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians. They are also working towards securing the release of all hostages.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s visit to Israel exacerbated tensions within the White House and the State Department.
Netanyahu did agree to allow a UN mission to enter northern Gaza to assess the needs for the future return of Palestinian civilians. However, beyond this concession, there was limited progress.
U.S. Calls for Palestinian involvement in post-war Gaza plans
Blinken was straightforward in his discussions, labeling the Israeli government’s post-war plans as “pie in the sky.”
He also emphasized that no Arab country would come to Israel’s aid on the rebuilding and governance of Gaza unless Israel allowed the Palestinian Authority to have a role and considered a political horizon for the Palestinians.
The refusal to release Palestinian tax revenues is hampering U.S. efforts to push for reforms in the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed readiness to form a new government but stressed that without the necessary funds, it would be unable to function effectively. Tax revenues play a significant role in the Palestinian budget.
Biden admin explores mega-deal with Saudi Arabia
To address Netanyahu’s stance, the Biden administration is exploring the possibility of a mega-deal with Saudi Arabia that would include a historic peace agreement with Israel.
While this may seem far-fetched given the current circumstances, it presents an alternative vision to the potentially unending conflict in Gaza.
The administration is also keeping channels open with other political players in Israel. Secretary Blinken met with war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, opposition leader Yair Lapid, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during his visit.
Biden admin engages with stakeholders in Israel
These meetings indicate a readiness to engage with various stakeholders in Israel.
For now, Netanyahu appears more receptive to ultranationalist ministers in his government than the President of the United States.
The dynamics in Israel continue to evolve as tensions persist, and the outcome of the conflict remains uncertain.