How Biden Can Get Tough on Netanyahu

commentary

Mar 18, 2024

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023, photo by Miriam Alster/Pool via Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023

Photo by Miriam Alster/Pool via Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on Foreign Affairs on March 14, 2024.

Throughout most of U.S. President Joe Biden's political lifetime, conventional wisdom has held that there is no benefit—and enormous risk—to getting tough on Israel. But it is no longer that simple. After more than five months of devastating war in the Gaza Strip, there is also great risk in not getting tough. Americans overwhelmingly saw Hamas's October 7 terrorist attack as horrific, but many now see Israel's military response as—to use Biden's words—“over the top.” In late January, half of Americans thought Israel's military campaign had “gone too far,” according to polling from the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The president's support for Israel's invasion of Gaza has alienated much of his electoral base, including young people, progressives, Arab Americans, Muslims, and those who care deeply about human rights.

Biden has not yet proved willing to challenge Israel in a meaningful way, but there are signs that he is becoming increasingly frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In February, the president's close associates told NBC News that Netanyahu is “giving him hell.” On March 10, Biden said Netanyahu's military strategy was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel.” Netanyahu has chafed at Biden's increasingly public calls for restraint, refusing the president's repeated requests for an open flow of humanitarian aid, and has flatly rejected calls to support even a vague pathway toward an eventual two-state solution.

Biden has both personal and political reasons for continuing to accept these rebuffs.…

The remainder of this commentary is available at foreignaffairs.com.


Jonah Blank is an adjunct political scientist at RAND and a visiting research fellow at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute. From 1999 to 2009, he served as Senator Joe Biden's policy director for South and Southeast Asia; from 1999 to 2001 he also advised the senator on the Middle East.