Biden Suggests Netanyahu May Be Dragging Out War for Political Gain

The president also called Israel’s actions “inappropriate” but stopped short of calling them war crimes.

Amir Cohen/AP

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In one of his most pointed criticisms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yet, President Biden suggested that the Israeli leader may be dragging out the war in Gaza for his political benefit.

“There is every reason for people to draw that conclusion,” Biden told Time in a new wide-ranging interview published Wednesday.

The president also said that he believed some of Israel’s actions in the war have been “inappropriate” and a “mistake.”

The new interview, which was conducted May 28, comes days after Biden announced a new three-stage deal to end the war—including a ceasefire, the release of hostages, and the rebuilding of Gaza—and said that it is “time for the suffering to stop.” His answers to Time were, at times, vague and contradictory, but amounted to some of his most direct public criticism of Netanyahu and the Israeli military since the war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas killed approximately 1,200 Israelis and took more than 250 hostages, including some Americans.

Netanyahu has grown increasingly unpopular among Israelis since the start of the war, due in part to his inability to free the hostages; Israeli officials have also threatened to resign and demanded Netanyahu publicly promise that Israel will not indefinitely occupy Gaza. Meanwhile, Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said last week the war could last through the end of the year.

When it came to the question of whether Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza, as International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan publicly alleged last month, Biden was more tepid in the Time interview: “The answer is it’s uncertain and has been investigated by the Israelis themselves…But one thing is certain, the people in Gaza, the Palestinians have suffered greatly, for lack of food, water, medicine, etc. And a lot of innocent people have been killed,” Biden said, adding that “a lot of it has to do not just with Israelis, but what Hamas is doing in Israel as we speak.”

According to the latest numbers from the Associated Press, the war has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, in addition to the 1,200 Israelis killed on Oct. 7. Officials have described the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as “absolutely catastrophic.” Samantha Power, the top US humanitarian official, said in April that famine was likely underway in parts of Gaza, and the situation has only grown more dire following the Israeli seizure of the Rafah border crossings. And recent reports, including one in the Washington Post, have alleged that some radical Israeli settlers have attacked aid trucks bound for Gaza, preventing crucial supplies from getting in.

But when the Time reporter asked if Biden believed that Israel was intentionally starving civilians, allegations that are included in the I.C.C. applications for arrest warrants, he said: “No, I don’t think that. I think they’ve engaged in activity that is inappropriate.”

He continued, saying that he advised Israeli officials not to “make the same mistake we did going after [Osama] bin Laden…it led to endless wars.”

“Don’t make the mistakes we made,” Biden said. “And they’re making that mistake, I think.”

It remains unclear if Israel and Hamas will accept the plan that Biden announced on Friday. Netanyahu’s allies have since expressed strong opposition to the proposal; Hamas has signaled a more positive reaction. But while Biden urges the two sides to accept the deal, as my colleague Noah Lanard wrote, there is still a lot Biden could do independently if he was serious about ending the war, including ending the sending of weapons to Israel, increasing aid to Gaza, and ensuring compliance with federal laws that restrict U.S. support for nations restricting American aid and implicated in “gross violations of human rights.”

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