Netanyahu to send Israeli officials to Washington to discuss Gaza war, food crisis

President Biden, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone on Monday.
(Associated Press)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday agreed to send a team to Washington to discuss with Biden administration officials a prospective operation in the Gaza Strip, national security advisor Jake Sullivan said.

“We’ve arrived at a point where each side has been making clear to the other its perspective,” Sullivan said.

The White House has been skeptical of Netanyahu’s plan to carry out an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where about 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, as Israel looks to eliminate Hamas following its deadly Oct. 7 attack.


The agreement to hold talks about Rafah came as President Biden and Netanyahu spoke Monday, their first interaction in more than a month, as a divide has grown between the allies over the food crisis in Gaza and Israel’s conduct during the war, according to the White House.

Sullivan added that Biden questioned the Israeli leader over a lack of a “coherent and sustainable strategy” to defeat Hamas.

President Biden and senior administration officials have become increasingly blunt about their dissatisfaction with the mounting death toll in Gaza.

March 4, 2024

The call came after Republicans in Washington and Israeli officials expressed outrage that Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer sharply criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza and called for Israel to hold new elections. They accused the Democratic leader of breaking the unwritten rule against interfering in a close ally’s electoral politics.

Biden hasn’t endorsed Schumer’s call for Israeli elections but said he thought the senator gave a “good speech” that reflected the concerns of many Americans. Netanyahu raised concerns about Schumer’s comments, Sullivan said.

Biden administration officials have warned that they would not support an operation in Rafah without the Israelis presenting a credible plan to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians. Israel has yet to present such a plan, according to White House officials.

Netanyahu, in a statement after the call, made no direct mention of tension with the United States.


“We discussed the latest developments in the war, including Israel’s commitment to achieving all of the war’s goals: eliminating Hamas, freeing all of our hostages and ensuring that Gaza never (again) constitutes a threat to Israel — while providing the necessary humanitarian aid that will assist in achieving these goals,” Netanyahu said.

But on Sunday, Netanyahu lashed out against the U.S. criticism, describing calls for a new election as “wholly inappropriate.” He told Fox News that Israel never would have called for a new U.S. election after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“We’re not a banana republic,” Netanyahu said. “The people of Israel will choose when they will have elections and who they’ll elect, and it’s not something that will be foisted on us.”

President Biden says he believes Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is ‘hurting Israel more than helping’ in his approach to war against Hamas in Gaza.

March 9, 2024

Meanwhile, the United Nations food agency on Monday issued more dire warnings about the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

The World Food Program warned that “famine is imminent” in northern Gaza, where 70% are experiencing catastrophic hunger, and that escalation of the war could push around half of Gaza’s population to the brink of starvation.

Sullivan called the report “alarming.”

Biden was caught on a hot mic this month after his State of the Union address telling a Democratic ally that he has told Netanyahu they would have a “come to Jesus” meeting over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. His frustration was also on display in a recent MSNBC interview, in which he asserted that Netanyahu was “hurting Israel.”


Netanyahu says he has ordered the military to prepare a plan for the evacuation of the southern Gaza town of Rafah ahead of an expected ground invasion.

Feb. 9, 2024

“He has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas,” Biden said. “But he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken. ... In my view, he’s hurting Israel more than helping Israel.”

The president announced during his State of the Union address that the U.S. military would help establish a temporary pier aimed at boosting the amount of aid getting into Gaza. The U.S. military has also been air-dropping aid.

The Biden administration resorted to the unusual workarounds after months of appealing to Israel, a top recipient of U.S. military aid, to step up access and protection for trucks bearing humanitarian goods for Gaza.

The war was triggered after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel in a surprise attack Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and taking around 250 hostages.

Israel responded with one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history. The war has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza. Around 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes.

Madhani, Miller and Frankel write for the Associated Press.