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Biden and Netanyahu Speak Again after Prolonged Silence

U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had their first discussion since the abrupt ending of their Dec. 23, 2023 phone call. Before then, they had talked almost daily during the first 11 weeks of Israel’s war on Gaza.

NSC spokesman John Kirby said today that, after they talked about the hostages, they reviewed the situation in Gaza and the shift to targeted operations that will enable the flow of increasing amounts of humanitarian assistance, while keeping the military pressure on Hamas and its leaders significant.” Biden stressed “Israel’s responsibility—even as it maintains military pressure on Hamas and its leaders—to reduce civilian harm and to protect innocent civilians.”

Biden asked about the Palestinian Authority’s tax revenues, which Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has kept from Palestine for months. Kirby did not say what, if any, answer was made, but told the reporters that Palestine’s tax revenues are needed to pay salaries of its security forces, with whom Israel cooperates to combat terror in the West Bank. (Israel’s military has made a point that Smotrich’s reckless action has undermined security on the West Bank.) Israel’s security cabinet has scheduled a vote for Jan. 21 on a new proposal, thought to employ a third party, that would finally get the funds transferred.

Kirby added: “The President also discussed his vision for a more durable peace and security for Israel, fully integrated within the region, and a two-state solution with Israel’s security guaranteed.” Netanyahu has not only loudly opposed exactly this, but the Times of Israel reported that he has been blocking even any discussion within the Israeli Cabinet on it. Kirby then signaled that Washington will not be applying any significant pressure on Netanyahu: “We are not trying to force their hand or force them to change their policy … but we can’t talk about post-war Gaza without discussing the Palestinian people’s aspirations and governance in Gaza.”

Netanyahu promptly told Israelis that any discussion of the “day after”—his phrase for a post-war Gaza—means nothing but a Palestinian state, and that he would never allow it.