After the Security Council resolution on Gaza… The Biden-Netanyahu relations where to?

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Wartime relations between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worsened to a new level on Monday after the United States allowed the adoption of a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, sparking harsh criticism from the Israeli prime minister.

Netanyahu suddenly canceled a visit by a delegation of senior officials to Washington this week to discuss the attack that Israel threatened to launch on the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after Washington abstained from voting in the Security Council on a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and the release of all… Hostages held by Palestinian armed factions.

The suspension of that meeting represents a major new obstacle to efforts by the United States, alarmed by the worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, to get Netanyahu to consider alternatives to a ground invasion of Rafah, a relatively safe last refuge for Palestinian civilians.

The threat of such an attack has increased tensions between the United States and Israel, and raised questions about whether the United States might restrict military aid if Netanyahu defies Biden and goes ahead with the attack.

“This shows that trust between the Biden administration and Netanyahu may be collapsing,” said Aaron David Miller, a former US negotiator in the Middle East who worked with administrations from both Republican and Democratic parties.

“If the crisis isn’t managed carefully, it will continue to worsen,” he added.

Biden’s decision to abstain from voting at the United Nations appears to reflect growing US frustration with the Israeli leader.

This move came after months of commitment to the long-term US policy of protecting Israel in the global organization.

The US president, who is seeking re-election to a second term in November, is facing pressure not only from Washington’s allies but also from a growing number of his Democratic colleagues to rein in Israel’s military response to the October 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel.

Biden, seeks to regain Arab American votes, especially in one of the biggest swing states, namely Michigan in order to secure victory for a second term.

On the other hand, Netanyahu faces internal challenges of his own, especially demands from members of his far-right coalition to take a tough stance against the Palestinians.

He must also convince the hostages’ families that he is doing everything to secure their release while facing repeated protests demanding his resignation.

While Netanyahu’s office announced the cancellation of the visit, the prime minister said that the United States’ failure to veto the resolution was a clear retreat from its previous position and would harm Israel’s war efforts.

US officials said the Biden administration was puzzled by Israel’s decision and viewed it as an overreaction, insisting that there had been no policy change.

Washington had mostly avoided using the word ceasefire earlier in the nearly six-month-long war in the Gaza Strip, and used its veto power at the United Nations to protect Israel during its response to Hamas.

But with famine looming in Gaza and amid growing global pressure for a truce in the war that Palestinian health authorities say has resulted in the deaths of about 32,000 Palestinians, the United States abstained from voting on a resolution calling for a ceasefire during the month of Ramadan, which ends in two weeks.

Analysts say that the challenge facing Biden and Netanyahu now is to prevent their differences from getting out of control.

John Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said there was no reason why this should be a deadly blow to relations.

“So I don’t think the door is closed to anything,” he said.

But the US abstention from voting deepens the dispute between Biden and Netanyahu, who have known each other for years but whose relationship has been characterized by tension even in the best of times.

Earlier this month, Biden said in an interview with MSNBC that a ground invasion of Rafah would be a red line, but he added that defending Israel is critical and that he wouldn’t undertake any action.

One way is to stop all weapons to the point where they no longer have the Iron Dome (missile defense system) to protect them.

Netanyahu rejected Biden’s criticism and vowed to move forward with attacking Rafah, the last part of the Gaza Strip that Israeli forces didn’t attack on the ground, but US officials say there are no signs of an imminent military operation.

This was followed last week by US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the country’s highest-ranking Jewish elected official, describing Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace and calling for new elections in Israel to replace him.

Biden called Schumer’s comments a “good speech”.

But Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters on Wednesday that he was considering inviting Netanyahu, who spoke via video with Republican senators last week, to address Congress.

This would be seen as a slap at Biden, giving Netanyahu an important arena to air grievances against the US administration.

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told Reuters that Netanyahu appears to be working with Republicans to exploit the relationship between the United States and Israel to the benefit of the right.

Biden’s bid for re-election in 2024 limits his options; He needs to avoid giving Republicans a case to build on with pro-Israel voters, while at the same time seeking to stem the decline in support from progressive Democrats who are dismayed by his strong support for Israel.

Netanyahu, aware that opinion polls predict his crushing defeat in any election that might be held now, knows that there is widespread support for continuing the war in Gaza among Israelis who are still deeply traumatized by the October 7 attack.

So, he seems willing to risk testing Washington’s tolerance.

All members of Netanyahu’s war Cabinet support continuing the war until Hamas is eliminated and the hostages returned, and there has been little sign of willingness to heed US calls for moderation, despite the growing risk of international isolation.

Hard-line Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that Israel is a partner and that the United States isn’t its state sponsor.

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