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US-Israel relations reach a new low

For the first time, the US withheld its veto in a ceasefire resolution at the UN, a sign of deteriorating relations between the Netanyahu and Biden governments.
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Two men with a crack between them

Relations between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu are rupturing (Creative Commons/TJI)

Published: 28 March 2024

Last updated: 28 March 2024

Tensions between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intensified this week when the US, which has consistently vetoed UN Security Council resolutions demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, abstained instead.

In response Netanyahu abruptly cancelled a planned visit of a high-ranking Israeli delegation for talks with the White House over an impending military operation in Rafah. He has since asked the White House to reschedule the meeting in an apparent bid to ease tensions between the two allies.

The US is opposed to an invasion of Gaza, where about 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. Israel argues invading Rafah is necessary to eliminate Hamas.

Attempting to explain the thinking behind the US abstention, Frank Lowenstein, a former state department official who helped lead Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2014, told the Washington Post that three major factors drove the move.

Biden did everything he could for months to avoid a big public fight. It reflects a very serious shift in the White House’s position.

Frank Lowenstein, former state department official

They are deep disagreements between Washington and Israel over a large-scale invasion of Rafah, the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, and Israel’s announcements of new settlements while the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was visiting the country last Friday.

“Biden did everything he could for months to avoid a big public fight. It reflects a very serious shift in the White House’s position towards how to manage the Israelis throughout the rest of this war. The Israelis are either going to pay attention now or we’re likely going to continue down this path,” said Lowenstein.

Analysts see this week’s events as evidence that the Biden administration has lost patience with Netanyahu.

“It is a signal that President Joe Biden has had it with the ingratitude and disrespect shown to him by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and needs Israel to shift course before he can support any additional major war actions. That includes the one that most observers expect and many agree is essential: the uprooting of Hamas from its last redoubt in the southern Gaza city of Rafah,” writes Dan Perry in The Forward.

Netanyahu has been dealing with America the way a spoiled teenager deals with his parents

Nahum Barnea, Yedioth Ahronoth

Netanyahu is widely regarded as manufacturing the crisis with Israel’s strongest ally for domestic political reasons – the crisis over haredi refusal to serve is reaching boiling point – and to avoid responsibility and shift blame to the US as the war becomes impossible to win.

It may well backfire. Writing in The Guardian, Alon Pinkas argues this is a crisis that either Netanyahu or the alliance may fail to survive.

“The current state of relations is close to an inflection point and could go in one of two directions: either Netanyahu is ousted or leaves or loses an election, or the US will be convinced that the bilateral ecosystem has faltered and warrants a major reassessment of relations. Under Netanyahu, Israel has reached the point at which its very value as an ally is being questioned. It took the US some time, but it finally seems to realise a simple fact: Israel may be an ally, but Netanyahu most certainly is not.”

Israeli media have been highly critical of the risk Netanyahu is taking with US-Israel relations.

“Netanyahu has been dealing with America the way a spoiled teenager deals with his parents: with perpetual rebellion, perpetual insults and perpetual scandals,” columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the centre-right Yedioth Ahronoth.


In a first, US withholds its veto and abstains from UN ceasefire resolution (Forward)

Israel asks US to reschedule scrapped meeting on Rafah military plans (Reuters)

Netanyahu has been spoiling for a fight with the US. He may not survive this one (Alon Pinkas, Guardian)

 Netanyahu provoking crisis with White House for domestic politics: U.S. officials (Axios)

Madness’: Netanyahu’s handling of US relations under scrutiny after UN vote  (Peter Beaumont, Guardian)

Defence officials fear Bibi-Biden spat could do lasting harm to US-Israel ties (Amos Harel, Haaretz)

UN ceasefire resolution is a signal, not a sanction, for Israel (Dan Perry, Forward)


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