Point-blank: Partner’s tension

Mohamed Salmawy
Tuesday 16 Jan 2024



t is no secret that tensions are on the rise between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was even reported that, a couple of weeks ago, Biden ended a phone call with Netanyahu saying, “this conversation’s over.” Differences between the two are likely to increase as the war continues. But they are just differences between partners in the execution and perpetuation of the same crime. Do not expect them to end up on opposite sides of the fence. They are bickering about tactics not about the strategy, aims or merits of the war.

One of their differences has to do with Israel’s random bombings which have been wiping out hundreds of civilians a day. The Biden administration fears this will increase Israel’s international isolation as well as that of the US because of its unconditional political and military support for Israel and the war. Washington has asked Israel to be more precise and focused on its targeting of Hamas. Israel did not agree.

Another bone of contention is that the US wants Israel to back the Palestinian Authority (PA) as the alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza. Netanyahu has explicitly said that this is not an option. He has repeatedly said that Israel would control Gaza directly so that it does not revert to Palestinian control as was the case before the war. It was in this context that Biden has been asking Israel to release the tax revenues that Israel collects for the PA in Ramallah. The Israeli government has withheld these funds from the PA since October. Netanyahu now refuses to release them on the grounds that the PA uses the funds to pay compensation to the families of Palestinians who had been killed for allegedly attacking Israelis.

Most likely, the details about the heated exchange between Biden and Netanyahu were deliberately leaked to the press to give the impression that the two do not see eye-to-eye on Israeli policy. The US has entered an election year and Biden’s approval ratings have plunged among important segments of US public opinion over his support for Netanyahu and the war on Gaza. So, when Biden argues with Bibi, as in the phone call above, it is all about his electoral prospects. It will do nothing to shift the equations to the Arab side in the current conflict with Israel.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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