Netanyahu's canceled delegation to DC perplexes White House

International Bibi 010324 Reuters Ronen Zvulun

Netanyahu and his radical right-wing coalition were roiled after the U.S. abstained from a vote of the U.N. Security Council proposal calling for a ceasefire in Gaza during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, allowing the measure to pass. The Israeli prime minister in recent weeks has also publicly seethed over what he says is a bid by the White House and Congressional Democrats to kneecap his political standing inside his own country.  


White House spokesperson John Kirby said the White House was “disappointed” and “perplexed” by Netanyahu’s response but tried to play down the rift, insisting that the countries’ relationship has not hit a new low and that U.S. policy had not changed. 


“These are two leaders who have known each other for going on now four decades, and they haven’t in the past agreed on everything and they don’t agree on everything right now,” Kirby said. 


But Israel’s reaction reflects an ever-growing divide between the two steadfast allies, a relationship that is already soured ahead of a planned Israeli offensive into Gaza’s southernmost city Rafah, a military move American officials have warned against.  


The canceled delegation was intended to discuss Israel’s plans for Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering after a brutal Israeli air and ground campaign has forced tens of thousands of people to flee northern parts of the enclave. White House officials have said that a ground invasion of the city without an accepted plan would create a humanitarian disaster


“We think that a ground invasion, especially without any type of credible plan, is a mistake, given the large number of people, displaced people that are there at the moment,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Monday. “There are ways to go about addressing the threat of Hamas while also taking into account civilian safety.” 


But after the U.S. declined to veto the U.N. Security Council resolution – which also called for the immediate release of all of the more than 130 hostages Hamas had taken – Netanyahu’s office released a statement calling Washington’s abstention “a clear retreat” from its previous position and one that would hurt efforts to fight Hamas in Gaza and to free hostages. 


The U.S., which had previously vetoed three other resolutions calling for a cease-fire, rejected those claims. 


“The prime minister’s office seems to be indicating through public statements that we somehow changed here. We haven’t,” Kirby said at the White House daily briefing Monday. “And we get to decide what our policy is. It seems like the prime minister’s office is choosing to create a perception of daylight here when they don’t need to do that.” 


And State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller called the withdrawn delegation “surprising and unfortunate,” seeing as the United States had ahead notified Israel’s government they were planning to abstain from voting on the resolution.  


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