Mar 25, 2024 - World

Netanyahu cancels meetings with Biden officials over UN ceasefire vote

Biden and netanyahu frowning

Biden meets with Netanyahu during a visit to Tel Aviv in October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a visit by his senior advisers to the White House later this week after the U.S. abstained on a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Why it matters: Netanyahu's move is arguably the biggest rupture with President Biden since the war began, and will significantly increase tensions over Israel's plans for Rafah. Biden had invited the delegation to Washington to discuss alternatives to an invasion of the city, where more than one million Palestinians are sheltering.

Driving the news: The resolution that passed on Monday was the first on which the Security Council managed to agree, after four failures.

  • It demands an immediate ceasefire in Gaza during the month of Ramadan and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas.
  • The U.S. had proposed a different resolution on Friday calling for a ceasefire conditioned on a hostage deal, but abstained on Monday's resolution, which used different language. All fourteen other member states voted in favor.

Minutes before the vote, Netanyahu claimed the resolution did not condition the ceasefire call on the release of hostages and threatened to cancel the Rafah meetings if the U.S. didn't use its veto.

  • After the U.S. abstained, UN Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield offered assurances that the resolution meant the ceasefire must come as part of a hostage deal.

What they're saying: This explanation didn't reassure Netanyahu, who swiftly announced the cancellation of the delegation

  • "The U.S. withdrew from its consistent position in the Security Council where it only a few days ago linked a ceasefire with the release of the hostages," Netanyahu said in a statement.
  • Netanyahu claimed the U.S. decision "hurts both the war effort and the effort to release the hostages, because it gives Hamas hope that international pressure will allow them to accept a ceasefire without the release of our hostages."
  • The other side: White House spokesperson John Kirby denied there was any shift in U.S. policy and told reporters the Biden administration is "very disappointed" about Netanyahu's decision to cancel the Rafah talks.

State of play: The crisis erupted two hours before Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was due to meet national security adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House.

  • Kirby said Sullivan, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will all meet Gallant and discuss the Rafah operation and other issues connected to the war in Gaza.
  • Gallant said in a statement after Netanyahu's cancelation announcement that he will stress the need to destroy Hamas and create an alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza.
  • "We don't have a moral right to stop the war in Gaza before all hostages are back home. If we don't get a decisive victory in Gaza the risk of a war with Hezbollah in the north will grow," Gallant said.
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