Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday brushed off President Biden’s call for a “significant de-escalation” of the conflict in Gaza, saying he is “determined to continue” the operation against the terrorist organization Hamas – just as Biden is facing pressure from the progressive arm of his own party on the issue.
Biden spoke to Netanyahu early Wednesday, and the White House said the two “had a detailed discussion of the state of events in Gaza, Israel’s progress in degrading the capabilities of Hamas and other terrorist elements, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by regional governments and the United States.”
“The President conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” the White House said in a statement.
But, after a visit to military headquarters hours later, Netanyahu said he “greatly appreciates the support of the American president,” but said Israel will push ahead “to return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.”
He added that he is “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”
Israel has been responding to rocket attacks from Hamas with measures of its own, including airstrikes targeting key Hamas military complexes. The state is facing criticism for the reported 200+ Palestinians killed, as well as strikes such as the one on an evacuated media building – although the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that it was being used by Hamas, with media outlets being used as cover.
Hamas has launched over 3,000 rockets into Israel since the conflict started nine days ago, and the state’s Iron Dome has intercepted and dismantled more than 90%, according to the Israeli military.
The Biden administration has been supportive of Israel so far, giving clear backing of Israel’s right to defend itself and emphasizing that Hamas is a nationally recognized terrorist organization.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted Thursday that there are “fundamental differences between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets — in fact, targeting civilians — and Israel’s response defending itself, that is targeting the terrorists.” Biden similarly said that Israel “has a right to defend itself.”
But The Associated Press reported that top Biden administration officials have told the Israelis privately that “time is not on their side” in terms of international objections to nine days of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rockets, and that it is in the best interest of Israel to wind down operations soon.
Biden is increasingly facing pressure from the more progressive left of his own party to ramp up pressure on the U.S. ally, with a number of Democrats complaining that Biden has not been tougher against Israel. A number have objected to a pending $735 million sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said he has “serious concerns about the timing of this weapons sale, the message it will send to Israel and the world about the urgency of a cease-fire.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has blamed “right-wing extremists in Jerusalem” for the violence, while Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and the leader of the “Squad,” has been critical of Biden’s support for Israel.
“Blanket statements like these [with] little context or acknowledgment of what precipitated this cycle of violence – namely, the expulsions of Palestinians and attacks on Al Aqsa – dehumanize Palestinians [and] imply the US will look the other way at human rights violations. It’s wrong,” she tweeted last week.
“By only stepping in to name Hamas’ actions – which are condemnable – [and] refusing to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians, Biden reinforces the false idea that Palestinians instigated this cycle of violence,” she added. “This is not neutral language. It takes a side – the side of occupation.”
On Tuesday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., appeared to have a heated conversation with Biden as he arrived in Michigan on Tuesday. Tlaib, who is of Palestinian heritage, has been a vocal critic of Israel and of the administration’s response to the conflict.
“If you support a cease-fire, then get out of the way of the U.N. Security Council and join other countries in demanding it,” she said in a tweet on Monday directed at the president and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Apartheid-in-chief Netanyahu will not listen to anyone asking nicely,” she continued. “He commits war crimes and openly violates international law.”
Moments later, Biden praised Tlaib as he spoke in Dearborn.
“I want to say to you that I admire your intellect, I admire your passion, and I admire your concern for so many other people. And it’s from my heart,” Biden said. “I pray that your Grandma and family are well, I promise to do everything you see that they are in the West Bank.”
Fox News’ Peter Hasson and Caitlin McFall contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.