Wed. Apr 17th, 2024
alert-–-bibi-u-turns-after-fuming-at-biden-for-not-vetoing-gaza-ceasefire-vote:-white-house-confirms-netanyahu-will-send-an-israeli-delegation-to-washington-for-rafah-talks-days-after-scrapping-meetingAlert – Bibi u-turns after fuming at Biden for not vetoing Gaza ceasefire vote: White House confirms Netanyahu will send an Israeli delegation to Washington for Rafah talks days after scrapping meeting

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a reversal, is planning to send two top Israeli officials to Washington as early as next week for talks about a possible invasion of Rafah.

Netanyahu called off the planned visit after the U.S. allowed passage of a Gaza ceasefire resolution at the United Nations, a sign of worsening tensions between Tel Aviv and President Joe Biden’s administration.

‘The prime minister’s office has agreed, has agreed, to reschedule the meeting dedicated to Rafah,’ White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at Wednesday’s press briefing.

‘We’re now working with them to sit to find a convenient date that’s obviously going to work for both sides but his office has agreed to to reschedule that meeting that would be dedicated to Rafah, which is a good thing.’

A Palestinian boy walks on the site of an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah

A Palestinian boy walks on the site of an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah

The meeting could happen as early as next week but the White House said it could not yet confirm a date. Israeli strategic affairs minister Ron Dermer and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi are the officials likely to attend.

‘We remain hopeful that we can break we can broker a deal to secure the release of hostages and establish a temporary ceasefire. This is something that we’ve been asking for some time,’ Jean-Pierre said. 

When Netanyahu originally cancelled the meeting, the White House brought up Rafah with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who was already in Washington. Gallant met with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Wills, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

‘I think the defense minister being here from Israel was really important for two days having those all important or critical conversations,’ Jean-Pierre said.

After the U.S. chose to abstain – instead of veto – a UN resolution demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, Netanyahu accused Washington DC of ‘retreating’ from a ‘principled position’ with its vote. 

American officials said the U.S. abstained because the resolution didn’t condemn Hamas. By abstaining instead of vetoing, the U.S. allowed the resolution to pass. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , in a reversal, is planning to send two top Israeli officials to Washington as early as next week for talks about a possible invasion of Rafah

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , in a reversal, is planning to send two top Israeli officials to Washington as early as next week for talks about a possible invasion of Rafah

Smoke billows over buildings following Israeli bombardment in Rafah

Smoke billows over buildings following Israeli bombardment in Rafah 

In the aftermath, the White House said it was ‘perplexed’ as to why Netanyahu had canceled the meeting.

‘We’re perplexed by this,’ White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday.

Kirby said that America’s vote ‘does not represent a shift in our policy.’  

‘We’ve been very consistent in our support for a ceasefire as part of a hostage deal,’ he said. ‘But because the final text does not have key language that we think is essential, such as condemning Hamas, we couldn’t support it.’

‘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,’ Kirby noted.

After the UN vote Netanyahu decried America’s decision as ‘a retreat from the consistent American position since the beginning of the war,’ and said the U.S. abstention ‘harms the war effort as well as the effort to liberate the hostages.’

He noted he wasn’t sending an Israeli delegation to Washington to hold high-level talks with U.S. officials on a planned operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah – a rebuke to President Joe Biden, who had asked for the meetings.

The Israeli Prime Minister later said his decision to cancel the meeting was meant to deliver a message to Hamas that international pressure against Israel will not prompt it to end the war without concessions from the militant group, an apparent attempt to smooth over the clash between the allies. 

Now the meeting is back on. Jean-Pierre said it was ‘urgent’ to lock in a date. The Biden administration has warned Israel against a ground invasion of Rafah, which is overflowing with refugees. Israel has so far rejected American appeals to call off the planned operation.

The UN resolution is non-binding and the world governing body has no way to enforce it. 

A Palestinian injured in an Israeli airstrike arrives at Kuwait Hospital for treatment

A Palestinian injured in an Israeli airstrike arrives at Kuwait Hospital for treatment

Humanitarian aid falls through the sky toward the Gaza Strip

Humanitarian aid falls through the sky toward the Gaza Strip

The United Nation’s 15-member Security Council approved the ceasefire resolution 14-0 after the U.S. decided not to use its veto power on the measure, which also demanded the release of all hostages taken captive during Hamas´ Oct. 7 surprise attack in southern Israel. 

The chamber broke into loud applause after the vote.

The U.S. vetoed past Security Council ceasefire resolutions in large part because of the failure to tie them directly to the release of hostages, the failure to condemn Hamas’ attacks and the delicacy of ongoing negotiations. 

American officials have argued that the ceasefire and hostage releases are linked, while Russia, China and many other council members favored unconditional calls for ceasefires.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) arrives to the U.S. State Department to meet with Secretary of State Blinken

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) arrives to the U.S. State Department to meet with Secretary of State Blinken

The U.S. decision to abstain comes at a time of growing tensions between President Joe Biden’s administration and Netanyahu over Israel´s prosecution of the war, the high number of civilian casualties and the limited amounts of humanitarian assistance reaching Gaza. 

The two countries have also clashed over Netanyahu´s rejection of a Palestinian state, Jewish settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the expansion of settlements there.

In addition, the well-known antagonism between Netanyahu and Biden – which dates from Biden´s tenure as vice president – deepened after Biden questioned Israel´s strategy in combating Hamas.

Then Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Biden ally, suggested that Netanyahu was not operating in Israel´s best interests and called for Israel to hold new elections. Biden signaled his approval of Schumer´s remarks, prompting a rebuke from Netanyahu.

During its U.S. visit, the Israeli delegation was to present White House officials with its plans for a possible ground invasion of Rafah, a city on the Egyptian border in southern Gaza where over 1 million Palestinian civilians have sought shelter from the war.

More than 32,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed during the fighting, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. 

Gaza also faces a dire humanitarian emergency, with a report from an international authority on hunger warning March 18 that ‘famine is imminent’ in northern Gaza and that escalation of the war could push half of the territory´s 2.3 million people to the brink of starvation.