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White House weighs how to respond if Israel defies Biden with Rafah invasion

By 37ci3 Mar16,2024

The White House on Thursday effectively accepted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s remarks calling for new elections in Israel to replace Netanyahu, described by the New York Democrat as a “major obstacle to peace.”

Biden said Friday that Schumer gave a “good speech.”

Asked about the president’s praise, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” that Biden “knows that the sentiments expressed by Leader Schumer in his very passionate speech yesterday are shared by many Americans.”

Privately, White House officials have expressed similar sentiments. “We are not dealing with that. There is no handwriting,” one of the White House officials said about the speech.

Schumer’s remarks on the Senate floor underscored divisions within the Democratic Party that will be difficult for the president to navigate as he campaigns for a second term. His stance is likely to embolden progressives who want to see the Netanyahu government backed by a meaningful change in US policy toward Israel, particularly by using leverage to halt aid and arms transfers, unless the Netanyahu government changes course.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., praised Schumer’s speech, but said it wasn’t enough.

“I think this is a step in the right direction. And the people of Israel must understand that they are increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. There is global outrage against Netanyahu’s right-wing extremist government, which is causing hundreds of thousands of children to starve to death in Gaza,” Sanders told NBC News. “We cannot continue to fund Netanyahu’s war machine.”

But other Democrats, including Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa. and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., disagreed with Schumer’s calls to replace Netanyahu.

“Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East, and as a democratic country, it is up to the people of Israel to determine their political future,” said Rosen, who is running for competitive re-election this fall.

The dynamics could further complicate the passage of the aid package to Ukraine and Israel. Progressives like Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., oppose trying to secure funding for two U.S. allies unless there are conditions for Israel.

Biden adopted a “bearhug” approach to Israel immediately after October 7, believing it to be the most effective way to influence Israel during a military attack on Hamas. But that strategy quickly began to reveal its flaws, with Israel ignoring Biden’s pleas to do more to protect Palestinian civilians and increase humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Now, Biden and Netanyahu have not spoken for a month. According to information from the White House, their last call was on February 15 and focused on Rafah.

White House officials said Biden was briefed ahead of Schumer’s speech, but no one in the administration coordinated with the senator. Still, Biden’s own comments last weekend could set the stage for Schumer’s public statement.

When Biden said Netanyahu was “harming Israel more than helping Israel,” it signaled a significant rupture in the relationship. The president said that Netanyahu “does not pay enough attention to the death of innocent people as a result of the measures taken.”

“It goes against what Israel stands for,” Biden told MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart last week. “And I think that’s a big mistake.”

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By 37ci3

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