Biden talks with Netanyahu as relative of US hostage blames Israeli PM

US president’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister has soured as criticism of Gaza offensive grows

John Bowden
Washington DC
Sunday 28 April 2024 23:37 BST
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President Joe Biden talked with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday amid a fraying of the two leaders’ relationship and criticism on a major US cable news network directed at the prime minister by a relative of an American held by Hamas.

The White House readout of the call described the two men as having discussed “ongoing talks to secure the release of hostages together with an immediate ceasefire in Gaza”, a day after the US president attended the glitzy White House Correspondent’s Association dinner that was once again targeted by protests of the US support for Israel during the war in Gaza.

It was the first conversation between Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu since Hamas militants released a video on Saturday showing a US citizen taken hostage in the bloody Oct 7 attack that killed 1,139 and saw hundreds of Israelis and others, including Americans, taken captive by the militant group. More than 100 are thought to remain prisoners of Hamas in Gaza.

“The President referred to his statement with 17 other world leaders demanding that Hamas release their citizens without delay to secure a ceasefire and relief for the people of Gaza,” read the White House’s description of the call. It went on to say that the two leaders further discussed preparations for new humanitarian aid crossings.

Mr Biden’s latest conversation with the Israeli PM comes as opposition to the US’s role in the conflict is seemingly spiralling into a major protest movement across the country, likely provoked at least in part by violent crackdowns against demonstrators at Columbia university and other schools including Emory University in Georgia.

At Saturday’s White House Correspondent’s Association dinner in Washington DC, protesters were both inside and outside of the building, though the main event itself was free from interruptions. Outside, many attendees ran a gauntlet of shouted condemnations from demonstrators who noted a call by Palestinian journalists to boycott the event.

On Sunday, the niece of one of the hostages seen in a video released by Hamas a day earlier, Keith Siegel, reacted to the news on CBS’s Face the Nation and accused Mr Netanyahu of seeing a political reason to avoid reaching a deal for the release of captives with the militant group’s leadership.

"I do think a deal can be reached. I mean, we know that," Hanna Siegel said, pointing to a previous hostage agreement which resulted in a temporary ceasefire last fall.

"[O]ne of the things that really worries my family, and worries me, is that it's arguably not in Prime Minister Netanyahu's political interest to close a deal," she said. “I do think that these two videos are a signal from Hamas that they are ready to make a deal and a reminder that there are American citizens being held, including Keith.”

Mr Biden and US officials continue to insist that the only path to a ceasefire in Gaza remains the immediate release of all hostages by Hamas.

Last week, the president signed into law a national security supplemental package providing $26.38bn in military assistance to Israel. The legislation was opposed by progressives in the House of Representatives but passed with overwhelming bipartisan margins.

Adding to the pressure on Mr Biden’s relationship with the Israeli prime minister: his own party’s establishment is home to many outspoken critics of Mr Netanyahu beyond the usual detractors of the Israeli government on the left. In recent weeks, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, one of Mr Biden’s closest allies in the upper chamber, gave a floor speech calling for Israel to hold immediate elections ostensively with the goal of replacing the prime minister, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Mr Netanyahu directly to resign.

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