Biden and Netanyahu hold first call in more than a month as tension grows over food crisis, war


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Monday, their first interaction in more than a month, as the divide has grown between allies over the food crisis in Gaza and conduct of the war, according to the White House.

The call comes after Republicans in Washington and Israeli officials were quick to express outrage after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sharply criticizedNetanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza and called for Israel to hold new elections. They accused the Democratic leader of breaking the unwritten rule against interfering in a close ally’s electoral politics.

Biden hasn’t endorsed Schumer’s call for election but said he thought he gave a “good speech” that reflected the concerns of many Americans.

The White House has been skeptical of Netanyahu’s plan of carrying out an operation in the southern city of Rafah, to which more than a 1 million displaced Palestinians have fled, as Israel looks to eliminate Hamas following Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack. Biden administration officials have warned that they would not support such an operation without the Israelis presenting a credible plan to ensure the safety of innocent Palestinian civilians. Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and the European Union.

Israel has yet to present such a plan, according to White House officials.

The Biden-Netanyahu call also comes as the United Nations food agency on Monday issued more dire warnings about the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

The World Food Program warned that “famine is imminent” in northern Gaza, where 70% of the remaining population is experiencing catastrophic hunger, and that a further escalation of the war could push around half of Gaza’s population to the brink of starvation.

Netanyahu lashed out against the American criticism on Sunday, describing calls for a new election as “wholly inappropriate.”

Netanyahu told Fox News Channel that Israel never would have called for a new U.S. election after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and he denounced Schumer’s comments as inappropriate.

“We’re not a banana republic,” he said. “The people of Israel will choose when they will have elections, and who they’ll elect, and it’s not something that will be foisted on us.”

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Biden after his State of the Union address earlier this month was caught on a hot mic telling a Democratic ally that he has told Netanyahu they would have a “come to Jesus” meeting over the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. His frustration with Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war was also on display in a recent MSNBC interview, in which he asserted Netanyahu was “hurting Israel.”

“He has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas,” Biden said of Netanyahu in the MSNBC interview. “But he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken. He’s hurting … in my view, he’s hurting Israel more than helping Israel.”

The president announced during his State of the Union address that the U.S. military would help establish a temporary pier aimed at boosting the amount of aid getting into the territory. The U.S. military has also been air-dropping aid into Gaza.

The Biden administration resorted to the unusual workarounds after months of appealing to Israel, a top recipient of military aid, to step up access and protection for trucks bearing humanitarian goods for Gaza.

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