Netanyahu out as prime minister after Israeli parliament votes to form a new coalition government

Benjamin Netanyahu
Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits during a Knesset session in Jerusalem Sunday, June 13, 2021.

  • The Israeli parliament on Sunday voted to form a new coalition government.
  • The vote formally ends Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year rule.
  • Naftali Bennett assumed the role of prime minister while Netanyahu became the opposition leader.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Israeli parliament on Sunday voted to form a new coalition government, unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has led the country for the last 12 years.

Naftali Bennett, a longtime Netanyahu ally turned adversary, assumed the role of prime minister and was sworn in Sunday, according to a report from the Associated Press. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, will continue as leader of the Likud party and is now the opposition leader.

The vote to form a new coalition government among eight political parties passed by a narrow 60-59 margin, according to the report.

“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Sunday.

“Israel has no better friend than the United States,” he continued. “The bond that unites our people is evidence of our shared values and decades of close cooperation and as we continue to strengthen our partnership, the United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security.”

As Insider’s Joshua Zitser previously reported, Bennett is the head of the country’s right-wing Yamina party and is an ultra-nationalist multimillionaire.

According to the AP, Netanyahu sat quietly during the vote. After the vote, he shook Bennett’s hand and briefly sat in the opposition leader’s chair before he walked out of the chamber, the AP report said.

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Netanyahu will look to Trump and Republicans as routes back to power in Israel, experts say

trump netanyahu
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while walking through the colonnade prior to an Oval Office meeting at the White House March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.

  • Netanyahu is set to be ousted as Israel’s prime minister after 12 years in power.
  • Experts say he’ll look to the US and Republicans as a path to his political revival.
  • His impending replacement is far less influential in the US, which could create some space for Biden.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After 12 years in power, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on the verge of being ousted. Though he’s hit a low point in his historic career, experts and former US diplomats say Netanyahu will remain a force to be reckoned with and his political demise could actually push the Israeli leader to become more involved in US politics and elections.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, has an outsized influence in the US – particularly with Republicans and Evangelicals. He garnered an especially close relationship with former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly took controversial steps on US-Israel relations that were in line with Netanyahu’s agenda and helped boost the Israeli leader’s profile.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [Netanyahu] starts intervening in our own elections at a personal level and links himself to Trump more and Trumpism, and plays the Republican card,” Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, told Insider.

“Don’t underestimate that, because he’s not just going to focus on Israeli politics – he thinks he has a card to play in American politics. And I think he does, especially given our polarized political environment,” Telhami added.

Telhami said that people on the far right in the US looking for allies against the Biden administration could see Netanyahu as a top candidate in that regard. With the Democratic party increasingly divided over US-Israel relations, and progressives pushing for an approach that shows more concern for Palestinians, Netanyahu could look to the exploit the situation.

Netanyahu sees American politics as “part of his legitimization,” Telhami said, and “because he’s linked himself so tightly to Republican politics and even to Trump personally – and certainly Trump’s people like Jared Kushner and David Friedman – he’s going to be rooting for Republicans to win.”

Trump Netanyahu White House
U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu show members of the media the proclamation Trump signed on recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights after their meeting outside the West Wing of the White House on March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.

The Israeli leader has already inserted himself into US affairs in ways that other world leaders wouldn’t dare to. As the Obama administration worked to finalize the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, for example, Netanyahu gave a speech before a joint session of Congress with the aim of torpedoing the agreement. Congressional Republicans invited Netanyahu to give the speech without consulting the White House, and the address was perceived as a major insult to then-President Barack Obama.

No longer being prime minister could potentially free Netanyahu up to be even more interventionist in the US, Telhami said, in the sense that he won’t have to be as mindful of the implications of his actions.

If the deal to form a new government made by a fragile coalition of eight opposition parties is ratified in the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – on Sunday, Netanyahu will be replaced as prime minister by Naftali Bennett, his former chief of staff and the head of the right-wing Yamina party.

Bennett is considered to be even further to the right than Netanyahu.

He supports expanding Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and annexing most of the Palestinian territory – both considered illegal under international law. Bennett is also against a two-state solution, which has been the centerpiece of US policy toward Israel-Palestine for decades (though Trump’s approach to the region undermined that goal).

But if Israeli lawmakers vote to approve the tenuous coalition, much of Bennett’s energy will be spent on trying to keep the alliance together. Meanwhile, Netanyahu would concentrate his efforts on breaking the government apart.

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett speaks to the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 30, 2021.

“At least in the short term, [Netanyahu] will be the opposition leader. That’s a position that has status and prominence in the Israeli system … In that role, he’ll travel to DC … and his voice will be heard. He’ll use it not only to express his views, but to try to put pressure on Bennett and into the coalition to try to split it apart,” according to a former US diplomat who spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of this topic.

Though Netanyahu will look to the US as a venue for his political revival, this does not necessarily mean the Biden administration will suddenly become preoccupied with the Middle East. President Joe Biden has not made the region a top foreign policy priority, and that’s unlikely to change. While Netanyahu has become a household name in US politics, Bennett is fairly unknown and doesn’t hold the same sway or influence.

“Assuming Bennett becomes prime minister, he’ll come to DC, he’ll do business with Biden. They will agree on some things, they’ll disagree on others. He’ll visit the Hill – but it won’t pack the same punch. That gives Biden some space,” the former diplomat said.

But as Biden learned via the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, neglecting the Middle East as a US president can have dire consequences.

In the meantime, the former diplomat said: “[Netanyahu] clearly has relationships and friendships or alliances with Republican politicians and Evangelicals. I’m sure there will be those who will continue to give him a platform and lift up his voice. The [Israeli] government will be shaky … There are definitely reasons why it could not survive and then he’ll have a shot to come back as prime minister. I don’t remove him from the story. He’ll still have a voice.”

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Naftali Bennett: The tech millionaire son of Berkeley ‘left-wingers’ who is poised to take over from Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu

Naftali Bennett Ayelet Shaked
Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked during a press conference in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2018.

  • Pending a Knesset vote, Naftali Bennett will become Israel’s next prime minister.
  • He was raised by two UC Berkeley graduates and has lived in Israel, Canada, and the US.
  • The right-wing multimillionaire was also controversially involved in the 1996 “Qana Massacre” of 106 civilians.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, could soon be out of office after an unlikely coalition of eight opposition parties successfully reached a deal to form a new government.

If the coalition is ratified in Israel’s Knesset, Netanyahu will be replaced as prime minister by his former Chief of Staff and the head of the right-wing Yamina party- Naftali Bennett.

Bennett, an ultra-nationalist multimillionaire, would serve as prime minister for two years before handing over to the Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.

With Bennett poised to take the reigns imminently, many are wondering who the prime minister-in-waiting actually is.

Read more: ‘Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas’ – ‘The Human Factor’ director Dror Moreh talks about the rise and fall of the Israel and Palestine peace process

Both of his parents are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley

Bennett was born in the port city Haifa in 1972. He descends from Holocaust survivors on his mother’s side and has Polish, German, and Dutch roots, according to Haaretz.

His parents, Myrna and Jim Bennett, are American but now live in Haifa. They visited Israel for a vacation after the Six-Day War in 1967 and ended up settling, according to The Jewish News of Northern California. Bennett’s father is a fifth-generation San Franciscan, the paper reported.

His parents are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, and were “left-wingers” until they settled in Israel and embraced nationalism, his mother told Haaretz.

“In the US, we were against the Vietnam War. We went to Berkeley. We were automatically like left-wingers. When we came to Israel, I felt I loved the place I was living in,” she said in a 2013 interview.

Bennett and his two brothers, Asher and Daniel, were raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish home in Haifa. A childhood friend told Haaretz that Bennett grew up in an atmosphere that was “very Zionist, right-wing.”

He attended a religious, co-educational school. He didn’t excel academically, according to a former teacher.

Naftali Bennett praying
Naftali Bennett prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in June 2013. He is a practising Orthodox Jew.

He was involved in the ‘Qana Massacre’ that killed 106 civilians

Bennett began his compulsory military service with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1990. He served as a soldier in Sayeret Matkal – the special forces unit tasked with counter-terrorism missions and hostage rescue outside of Israel’s borders – and as a company commander of the elite Maglan unit, The Jerusalem Post reported. Maglan is a secretive reconnaissance unit that specializes in using advanced technology and weaponry behind enemy lines, according to Ynet.

His role in one military operation, known as the Operation Grapes of Wrath or the April Aggression, is particularly controversial.

In April 1996, Bennett was the commander of a Maglan unit of 67 soldiers. While in Qana, a village in Southern Lebanon, his unit came under mortar fire from Hezbollah fighters.

The attackers reportedly fled into a nearby United Nations compound sheltering hundreds of Lebanese civilians. Bennett radioed for support against the Hezbollah mortar team, according to The Times of Israel, and the IDF artillery strike fired 36 high explosive shells. But 13 shells struck the UN compound, killing 106 civilians in what is now called the “Qana Massacre.”

Qana Massacre 1996
An Israeli unit, commanded by Naftali Bennett, shelled a United Nations compound and killed 106 civilians in 1996.

In the lead-up to the 2015 Israeli elections, Israeli journalist Ravid Drucker cited an anonymous “senior army figure” report that said Bennett’s radio call for support was “hysterical” and showed poor judgment, The Times of Israel reported.

Bennett called Drucker’s charges a “vanity of vanities, nonsense, a pile of bulls–t.” Other officers familiar with the incident dismissed the charges and said that Bennett displayed “level-headedness,” according to The Jerusalem Post.

Bennett would go onto boast of having killed many militants during his military service. “I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that,” he said, according to The Washington Post. He claims to have been misquoted, Israeli media reported.

Bennett is still a reservist, ranked as a major, and was called up during the 2006 Lebanon War, The Australian said.

Bennett led Wikipedia workshops on how to make the website more Israel-friendly

After his military service, Bennett studied for a law degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1999, he married his wife Gilat – a professional pastry chef from a secular Israeli family.

In the early 2000s, he moved to New York City to launch his career as a software entrepreneur and lived in the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan, The New Yorker reported. He co-founded an anti-fraud software company, Cyota, which he eventually sold in 2005 to RSA Security for $145 million.

He returned to Israel as a reservist in 2006 and then embarked on a political career. He served as Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff from 2006 to 2008. He also helped Netanyahu win his primary campaign to lead the Likud party in 2007.

In 2009, he became the CEO of Soluto – a now-defunct software company. He eventually stood down from the role to become director-general of the Yesha Council – a pro-settlement group of organizations.

In 2010, he co-founded a right-wing political organization, My Israel, with Zionist firebrand Ayelet Shaked. The group, along with the Yesha Council, worked to propagate right-wing Zionism online. They launched workshops to teach participants how to rewrite Wikipedia articles to make them more pro-Israel, The Guardian reported in 2010.

In 2012, Bennett left Likud – the party currently chaired by Netanyahu – and joined the Orthodox Jewish, pro-settlement Jewish Home party.

Naftali Bennett speaking as head of the Jewish Home party
In this Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 photo, Naftali Bennett, who was then the head of the Jewish Home party, speaks in Ashdod, Israel.

In 2013, he became the party leader with 67 percent of the vote and later won 12 seats in Israel’s Knesset. He renounced his American citizenship to join the Knesset, The Jerusalem Post reported.

He was appointed Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and, later, the Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, serving under prime minister Netanyahu.

While acting as a minister in these roles, Bennett sold Soluto for $130 million in 2013, according to Haaretz. He pocketed millions from the sale, the paper said.

In 2015, he was re-elected and became Minister of Education. In this role, he banned schools from inviting organizations that condemned Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank, Ynet reported.

Tensions between Bennett and Netanyahu

Bennett had previously viewed Netanyahu as his mentor. He looked up to him so much that he even named his eldest son, Yoni, after Netanyahu’s brother, who was killed in 1976, Reuters reported.

Their working relationship soured after a mysterious falling out in 2008 at the end of Bennett’s tenure as his chief of staff, according to The Washington Post. The argument was, according to Israeli media reports, related to Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.

A year later, they clashed again after Bennett criticized Netanyahu for slowing down settlement construction, the Post added.

In 2018, tensions between Netanyahu and Bennett escalated. Bennett wanted to be Defense Minister but was thwarted by Netanyahu, who then took the job for himself, Reuters reported.

Bennett announced that his party, Jewish Home, would leave Netanyahu’s government. He later reneged and remained in the coalition, The Times of Israel reported.

Naftali Bennett, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu, right
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Naftali Bennett, left, in August 2016.

He then shocked the nation by splitting from Jewish Home and with Ayelet Shaked and other lawmakers to form the anti-Palestinian New Right party in 2018.

The party failed to win any seats, and the New Right formed an electoral coalition with several right-wing, religious parties to bolster their electoral chances. This became known as Yamina, which won seven seats in the March 2021 election under Bennett’s leadership.

Yamina’s core principles include opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state, developing illegal settlements, and defeating terrorism.

Due to the logistics of coalition-forming in the Israeli political system, Bennett, with only seven seats, became known as the “kingmaker’ during negotiations to form a new government and set himself up to become the next Israeli prime minister.

As part of these negotiations, Bennett had to walk back on previous comments made about United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas – an Israeli-Arab politician who has joined the coalition.

Bennett had previously called Abbas a “supporter of terrorism,” but, now, the pair have become strange political bedfellows. This week, he called Abbas a “brave leader” and a “decent man” and said that the partnership would “turn over a new leaf in the relationship between the state and Arab Israelis,” Haaretz reported.

‘I told my kids their father will be the most hated person in Israel’

Those hoping that Netanyahu’s ousting will bring a substantive change to the Israeli-Palestinian relationship may be left wanting. Bennett shares a similarly hardline, right-wing approach to security issues.

Several Palestinian officials told Al Jazeera that they expect Netanyahu’s replacement to pursue the same “Greater Israel” agenda.

Bennett favors the unilateral annexation of the occupied West Bank. “We have to mark the dream, and the dream is that Judea and Samaria will be part of the sovereign State of Israel. We have to act today, and we must give our lives,” he said in 2017.

But Bennett has said that, as part of his coalition agreement, he will not agree to the annexation of any West Bank territory or the building of new settlements, The Times of Israel reported.

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett speaks to the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 30, 2021.

He also opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. “I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state,” he told The New Yorker in 2013.

Bennett holds a conservative viewpoint on social issues, including opposing same-sex marriage.

How he will find common ground between his ultra-nationalist, religiously conservative views and Lapid’s center-left, pragmatic approach is the focus of political discussion in Israel. When asked about this, his response is simple and ambiguous: “We’ll manage.”

Bennett is also already anticipating ferocious criticism and cries of betrayal for joining the coalition. He told Channel 12 News: “I told my kids that their father was going to be the most hated person in the country.”

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Netanyahu’s rivals reach deal to boot him as Israel’s prime minister after leading the country for 12 years

netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv March 18, 2015.

  • Netanyahu’s rivals reached a deal to oust him as Israel’s prime minister.
  • He’s been in power 12 years, longer than any other leader in Israel’s history.
  • Naftali Bennett, a far-right nationalist, is poised to take over.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents on Wednesday reached a deal to oust him as Israel’s prime minister on Wednesday, with the far-right leader Naftali Bennett set to replace him as part of a power-sharing deal with centrist Yair Lapid.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, must still ratify the agreement in a confidence vote, which could happen in the next few days.

The fragile coalition formed to boot Netanyahu is made up of eight political parties across the political spectrum and includes an Arab bloc. Despite their diverging interests and agendas, the parties came together to push Netanyahu out after more than a decade in power. The negotiations to form a unity government came down to the wire, with an agreement reached just hours before a midnight deadline. If the parties failed to reach a deal it could’ve pushed Israel into its fifth elections in just two years, prolonging a political deadlock.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving leader, has taken a hawkish stance toward Palestinians that’s created tensions with the US at times. In the weeks leading up to Netanyahu’s potential ouster, fighting between Israel and Hamas led to over 250 deaths – predominantly Palestinians. – and left parts of Gaza in ruins.

On top of being on the verge of getting pushed out, Netanyahu has significant legal woes. He was charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in 2019 and his trial is ongoing. Netanyahu pleaded not guilty and has dismissed the charges as part of a politically-motivated “witch hunt,” borrowing from the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump.

Trump and Netanyahu had a close relationship. The former president’s approach to US-Israel relations was typified by actions that favored Netanyahu’s agenda and boosted his political profile, including recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel and declaring that the US no longer viewed Israeli settlements as inconsistent with international law. These controversial moves went against decades of US policy and undermined the US government’s longstanding goal of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

Biden Netanyahu
Then-Vice President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November 2010.

President Joe Biden’s approach to US-Israel relations has essentially marked a return to US policy prior to the Trump era. Biden has continued to treat Israel as a close ally. During the recent fighting with Hamas, the president touted Israel’s right to self-defense and initially tiptoed around endorsing a cease-fire.

Progressive Democrats ripped into Biden over his response to the fighting, urging him to show more concern for Palestinians. Israeli airstrikes leveled residential buildings in Gaza. The fighting killed 254 Palestinians, including at least 66 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Twelve people, including two children, were killed in Israel.

After the cease-fire was implemented, Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the Middle East and announced the US would provide more assistance to Palestinians and reopen a consulate in Jerusalem to handle Palestinian affairs. Meanwhile, progressives continue to push for Biden to condition aid to Israel in relation to the peace process and Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Though there’s a growing rift in the Democratic party over US-Israel relations, the dynamic between the two countries is not expected to change dramatically under new leadership. But if Bennett attempts to move forward with plans to annex much of the West Bank, which would be in violation of international law, it could put Biden in a tough position.

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Netanyahu rival Bennett announced he was joining forces with political opponents to unseat the Israeli prime minister

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem June 28, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem

  • Israeli far-right party leader Naftali Bennett threw his crucial support behind a “government of change” in Israel.
  • The move could open the door to a coalition to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • The contest could bring his first election defeat since 1999 and an end of a political era.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

JERUSALEM — Far-right party leader Naftali Bennett threw his crucial support on Sunday behind a “government of change” in Israel to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in what would be the end of a political era.

Bennett’s decision, which he announced in a televised address, could enable opposition chief Yair Lapid to put together a coalition of right-wing, centrist, and leftist parties and hand Netanyahu his first election defeat since 1999.

Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party that finished second to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in an inconclusive March 23 national ballot, faces a Wednesday deadline from Israel’s president to announce a new government.

Lapid’s chances of success have rested largely with Bennett, a former defence chief whose Yamina party’s six seats in the 120-member parliament are enough to give him the status of kingmaker.

Under a prospective power-sharing deal, Bennett would replace Netanyahu, the 71-year-old head of the Likud party, as prime minister and later give way to centrist Lapid in a rotation agreement.

“It’s either a fifth election, or a unity government,” Bennett, 49, said in his speech, explaining his decision to partner with Lapid.

Israel has held four inconclusive elections since April 2019.

The new coalition’s diverse members would have little in common apart from a plan to end the 12-year-run of Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, now on trial over corruption charges he denies.

An anti-Netanyahu coalition would be fragile and require outside backing by Arab members of parliament who oppose much of Bennett’s agenda, which includes more settlement building in the occupied West Bank and its partial annexation.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ari Rabinovitch and Frances Kerry)

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‘Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas’ – ‘The Human Factor’ director Dror Moreh talks about the rise and fall of the Israel and Palestine peace process

FILE PHOTO: PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat (R) shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (L), as U.S. President Bill Clinton stands between them, after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord, at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 13, 1993. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: PLO Chairman Arafat shakes hands with Israeli PM Rabin after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord, in Washington

  • Oscar-nominated filmmaker Dror Moreh’s new documentary “The Human Factor” takes an intimate look into the Israel/Palestine peace process through the eyes of US negotiators.
  • Moreh spoke with Insider columnist Anthony Fisher about the delicate, sometimes comical, negotiations that kept the peace process alive and produced tangible progress.
  • With violence raging between Israel and Hamas, civilians dying, and the two-state solution all but dead, Moreh is not optimistic for peace because brave leadership on both sides is missing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dror Moreh is the Oscar-nominated director of the 2012 documentary “The Gatekeepers,” in which he spoke with six former heads of Israel’s secret security service Shin Bet. Remarkably, all these lifelong warriors agreed that Israel’s long-term security hinges on its efforts to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Moreh’s new film, “The Human Factor,” takes you through decades of the Israel/Palestine peace process, as told through extensive interviews with the US negotiators.

Insider columnist Anthony Fisher spoke via Zoom with Moreh, from the filmmaker’s home in Berlin.

Moreh says that the end of the day, leaders of nations are just human beings, and the human touch is what keeps peace negotiations alive.

He also says right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas (the Islamist extremist group that controls the Gaza Strip) are more similiar than they’d care to admit, and he’s less optimistic about the hope for Mideast peace than he’s ever been. Moreh thinks “coexistence” – rather than “peace” – might be the best-case scenario.

This interview has been edited for style, clarity, and length.

Whenever there’s a conversation to be had about Israeli-Palestinian politics and the conflict, I always tell people to see “The Gatekeepers.”

And it’s fairly incredible timing that your new film – about the long-dormant peace process – is coming out right now.

Thank you. I wish the film wasn’t so relevant, but you cannot really control those issues.

In “The Human Factor,” one of the US diplomats said his Arab counterparts made it clear that they don’t view the future the same way as the US or Israel. To them, it’s about fixing an injustice, and only then negotiating about the future, rather than “moving on” from the past and focusing on the future.

It feels like this gulf is an eternal stumbling block in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.

When I heard that sentence, I understood something fundamental which I didn’t really realize up until then. It’s just a fundamentally different way of approaching the future.

Having said that, I think the whole region, including the Israelis, are approaching this with the traumas of the past. Israelis – and I’m an Israeli – think about the Holocaust as something that is very fundamental in the approach to everything they see. Our leaders also use that.

Palestinians and Arabs see the past, judge the past, and say we cannot speak about the future. They want to address the Palestinian Naqba, the establishment of the state of Israel, and that Israel now occupies what they see as historical Palestine.

james baker yasser arafat getty
Former Secretary of State James Baker, Director of the Institute for Public Policy Edward Djerejian, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat converse at a Rice University reception for students, faculty, and members of the Arab-American and Jewish-American communities.

Everybody loves … James Baker?

Early in “The Human Factor,” there’s a segment about former Secretary of State James Baker, who was perhaps the quintessential Reagan/Bush White House Republican.

It’s almost unthinkable in our current political climate, but he was a fairly successful diplomat because he supported Israel, while also vocally criticizing the Israeli government. He would not just rubber-stamp every Israeli demand. And he was insistent that the Israelis meet the Palestinians on a level playing field, at least for the negotiations.

Across the board with all of the negotiators that worked with James Baker, they’ll say if he had stayed on as US secretary of state, there would definitely be at least one peace agreement signed. [Baker left government when President George HW Bush lost reelection in 1992.]

That’s because he was an effective mediator. Baker knew how to use the tools of diplomacy and the status of America as the global superpower to force people who were reluctant to move forward, and to bring them together to create something which was not there before. All of that changed when he left office.

When President Clinton took office, he appointed Warren Christopher as secretary of state. He had a completely different approach. He was much more hands off.

My problem with American involvement in the peace process is in how America deals with a prime minister of Israel who is reluctant to move forward towards peace. With a prime minister who’s for peace you just have to support him and give him assurances that the United States will back him up.

With [current Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, I think America has much more leverage over Israel than it uses. If America decides that bringing peace between Israel and its neighbors is a core American interest, the way that America approaches it should be different when you’re dealing with a prime minister like Netanyahu, who’s not for peace.

yitzhak rabin bill clinton getty
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meets US President Bill Clinton.

“Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas”

There’s a scene in “The Human Factor” where one of the diplomats tells you that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin warned of a coming Israeli civil war over the peace process.

A few years later, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing extremist. Can you talk a little bit about that moment?

Rabin, even before he took the first steps toward peace, said to [US Middle East envoy] Dennis Ross, “When I reach the point where I give the Palestinians what I need to give them, there’s probably going to be a civil war. And I need my boys in the army’s support.”

It was amazing how clearly he saw what was going to happen, he almost predicted it. And even in spite of that, he went for peace. That’s the personification of leadership to me.

Rabin, who was defense minister during the the first intifada, saw the uprising of Palestinian youngsters going to the street, not afraid of bullets, not afraid of guns and saying, “We are here. We want independence. We want to control our lives.”

And Rabin started out as defense minister saying, “break their arms, break their legs.” But by the time he became prime minister he said, “This is an existential threat to Israel, and I have to solve it while there is this window of opportunity, while America is the only global superpower, and the world has changed.”

Even though he saw the risks, Rabin said, “I have to go for peace.”

After him, the only leader was Ariel Sharon, who [in the mid-2000s] decided on disengagement with the Palestinians. The rest were merely small petty politicians.

ariel sharon jerusalem getty
Opposition leader Ariel Sharon of the right-wing Likud gestures towards Jerusalem’s Old City 24 July 2000 on the Mount of Olives during a rally to protest any land concessions in Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

Sharon had a reputation of being a tough-as-nails warrior for Israel’s interest. He was even accused of war crimes. And then as prime minister, he was for total disengagement. He even left the right-wing Likud party to form his own Kadima party and unilaterally pulled the Israeli military and settlement presence out of Gaza.

At the time, the majority of Israeli society was firmly behind Sharon and still believed in a two-state solution. It feels like after 12 years of Netanyahu, that public sentiment for peace is no longer there. Would you agree?

Totally. Netanyahu basically killed the two state solution. I don’t see any hope any more for a two state solution. The biggest shift for Israeli society is the constant movement to the right by Netanyahu.

When he came to power in 2009, Netanyahu said, “I’m going to crush Hamas.” There have been four conflicts with Hamas since then. Basically, Netanyahu and Hamas are keen brothers. They work for the same goals.

If we go back to Rabin, the first suicide attack was by Baruch Goldstein, [the Jewish extremist] who committed the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Hamas was not doing suicide bombing before then, because there was support among the Palestinian people for the peace process. After the massacre, Hamas started suicide bombing.

So in a way, Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas. He became prime minister the first time after the huge wave of suicide attacks in the beginning of February 1996, which crushed [then-Prime Minister Shimon] Peres and brought Netanyahu into power.

By the way, a week and a half ago, Netanyahu was on the way out, there was a very big chance that Yair Lapid would establish a unity government. And then Hamas sent those missiles to Jerusalem and all hell broke loose. And now Netanyahu’s still there and nobody’s speaking about a unity government.

The nail-biting negotiations over a handshake

In “The Human Factor,” there’s a remarkable scene detailing the intense negotiations that went into the handshake between Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.

Rabin insisted that Arafat not carry a gun, not wear his military-style uniform, and that there’d be no kissing. It’s kind of a light moment in the movie because it seems so silly. There’s so many lives at stake and this is what they’re quibbling over.

And yet, it was a great story because it illustrated the difficulty of the diplomats’ jobs. It showed how these things that seem so trivial and ancillary to the true crisis could be, in fact, deal breakers.

The biggest revelation is the importance of “the human factor.” You see these moments where a historic peace agreement is signed between two leaders. But at the end of the day, it’s about two human beings coming together and learning to know each other.

If you look at the Clinton White House photographer’s pictures right before the historic Rabin/Arafat handshake, you see the expression on Rabin’s face. He looks at Arafat and Bill Clinton in the middle, and his face says, “What am I doing here? Who is this guy? What the hell is going on?”

Then a year and a half later, Rabin and Arafat meet. And there’s the beautiful scene in the film where they have to decide whether the Palestinians will have a police station in the Oslo II Accord.

Arafat says, “Whatever is acceptable to the prime minister.” And Rabin says they will have a police station. You see their two faces, and you see the change between the handshake and this moment later. That’s the whole story in a little capsule.

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Masked Palestinian members of the Islamist Hamas movement march during a demonstration in Gaza Strip.

You just talked about Netanyahu and Hamas having a sort of symbiotic relationship. Going back to “The Gatekeepers,” there’s a section where the Israeli right turns against the Oslo Accords – which established the Palestinian Authority as a legitimate government entity that recognized Israel’s right to exist.

There were young kids and their fathers in the street chanting, “With blood and fire we will throw Rabin out.”

And in short order Rabin was assassinated, Netanyahu was elected for the first time, the peace process fell apart, and Hamas got exactly what it wanted.

Yeah. It’s a strange combination. I see a lot of parallels between Hamas and the extreme religious right-wing in Israel.

Both of them think the land of Israel [or] the land of Palestine is Holy Land. And nobody’s allowed to give that up. When you see the texts of the extreme right-wingers in Israel, and the texts of Hamas, they’re very similar. In that sense, they work with each other very well.

I wish there were an island where we could put them both together, and let the moderates live peacefully. It would be much better.

But regrettably in the peace process, and also today, the extremists from both sides are the ones that dictate the day.

Rabin’s whole concept in 1993 when he signed the Declaration of Principles [which led to the Oslo Accords] was very vague. It was to be a process, like the first Camp David meetings [in 1978] with Egyptian and Israeli negotiators. You build a process on relations and trust, and then you move to the really hardcore negotiations.

But the more time passed, the more cynical people got, and the less people trusted the process because those extreme factions came and basically killed it altogether. And the height of that was the assassination of Rabin by an extreme right-wing Israeli religious fanatic.

“No strategy, just tactics”

In “The Gatekeepers,” one of the former Shin Bet chiefs said that no matter whether the prime minister was Menachem Begin of Golda Meir or Shimon Peres – there was no political strategy to achieve long-term security, just tactics to tamp down on security threats.

Rabin certainly tried to challenge the status quo politically, as did Sharon – albeit in a much different way. Do you see support from the Israeli people now to change the status quo – which is basically permanent occupation? Is there any desire in Israel to resume the peace process?

Look, I can speak for myself. I cannot speak for all Israelis. There’s a variety of opinions. My point of view is that the status quo is what keeps the moment.

Rabin said this will kill Israeli society – this occupation, and containing people who do not want to be occupied and want their freedom. It will be corrosive to Israeli society. Sharon, when he became prime minister, said the same thing. They were leaders trying to move something in order to resolve the problem. We don’t have that now.

When you see what Sharon did with the disengagement from Gaza, and the amount of effort to do that and all the resistance from the Israeli right and extremists, it looked like a mission impossible.

And here we are speaking about Gaza – we are not speaking about Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank), the biblical ancestral lands of the Jewish people, the place where our forefathers walked and all kinds of stupid [arguments from the right].

When the prime minister has to decide to go for something like that, which he knows will tear Israeli society apart, you need to be very brave to do that. But the Israeli people get promises [for those exchanges] that they’ll get to live in peace.

After the Oslo Accords, there was the eruption of suicide attacks, the collapse of the [second] Camp David negotiations, the second intifada – and also the disengagement from Gaza, which allowed Hamas to take over Gaza and fire missiles constantly into Israel.

That’s the reason most of the Israeli public doesn’t really trust that there is a partner on the other side that can maintain security.

I totally agree with what [former US Middle East diplomat] Aaron David Miller said in “The Human Factor,” which was, “Let’s take the word ‘peace’ out of the vocabulary, and let’s try to build coexistence. That is what we can aim for, at least for the next few decades.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv March 18, 2015.

Not peace, but “coexistence”

Part of why I tell everyone with an an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to watch “The Gatekeepers” is because it’s so stunning to listen to these men who devoted their entire lives really to the security of Israel all come to similar conclusions.

One of them said, “You can’t make peace by military means.” Another said that even if your adversary “answers rudely,” you should still continue to pursue the conversation. And another said, “Israel wins every battle, but we may lose the war.” They all come to the conclusion that the only long-term solution for Israeli security is a disengagement with the Palestinians, which would mean a two state solution.

Israelis have a sarcastic phrase they’ll use for naive peaceniks: “You’re a beautiful soul.”

But here are the hardest of the hardcore Israeli security guys, and they’re saying we’ve bombed and maimed and killed in the name of Israel and the only way this country will survive in the long-term is through disengagement with the Palestinians.

Is there any chance this advice lands in the ears of the Israeli youth, where there’s some hope for a future in which coexistence is pursued?

I have to tell you, Anthony, that I lost hope. That’s the bitter truth.

I mean, look at the Gaza conflict. How many times have we bombed Gaza? How many times have we gone into a war? And, as we discussed, it’s all tactics, not strategy. It’s about sustaining and maintaining today and continuing to live in seemingly peaceful conditions until the next thing. So, no, I don’t think that this message can now land on Israeli ears.

We’ve been with the same politician as prime minister (Netanyahu) for 12 years. His impact on the [political] reality is huge. He’s negotiating and working with Hamas and downgrading and humiliating the Palestinian Authority. Benjamin Netanyahu is much better working with Hamas than with someone who says they’re for peace.

I hope there will be another leader soon. But I don’t believe we’ll see that kind of new leader from the Israeli political arena soon. It will take a few years before something can evolve in that sense.

And by the way, it’s the same with the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen (Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas) is 87 years old. He cancelled the Palestinian elections that were supposed to happen a few weeks ago. It’s one of the reasons for the current conflict.

But say you have a successor to Netanyahu and a successor to Abu Mazen, you still have Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. So wherever you look, it’s not very optimistic.

Almost all the former army chiefs of staff, all the heads of Shin Bet, all the heads of the Mossad, and all the heads of army intelligence, are for negotiation and for a two-state solution.

But you have a charismatic politician (Netanyahu) who is basically a good salesman. I mean, look at Trump. Look at what Trump did to your country. It’s unbelievable. You think that democracy is very stable and very strong, but when you have a demagogue who knows how to [manipulate] the media very well, this is where we are.

One thing I’m hoping people get out of this movie is the importance of the human factor. I’m currently doing a huge project about American politics encountering genocide, part of a series for American audiences, and for all over the world. And the importance of the human factor inside the decision-making room is stunning.

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The US quietly told Israel it can’t publicly support its aggression in Gaza for much longer, report says

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A 2010 photo of then-Vice President Joe Biden with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • The US told Israel it expects the offensive on Gaza to wind down soon, Axios reported.
  • Sec. of State Blinken reportedly told his Israeli counterpart the US can’t publicly back Israel much longer.
  • The call came soon after Biden urged de-escalation with Netanyahu, who then vowed to keep fighting.
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The US has told Israel that it can’t publicly support Israel in its offensive in Gaza for much longer, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “determined” to continue fighting, Axios reported.

An unnamed Israeli source told the outlet that in a Wednesday call between Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Blinken said that the US expected Israel to wind down its military operations soon.

The behind-the-scenes call came shortly after President Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu, Axios reported.

Biden had said he expected a “significant de-escalation” and a move toward a cease-fire by the end of the day, according to a White House readout.

After that call, Netanyahu nonetheless said publicly that while he appreciated US support, he was “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”

It is unclear exactly how long that is expected to take. On Tuesday, he had told officials that fighting could stop within several days, Israeli news website Ynet reported.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a senior official for Hamas – the Gaza-based militant group fighting Israel – said he expected a cease-fire “within a day or two.”

Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The call between Blinken and Ashkenazi, reported by Axios, suggests that behind the scenes, the Biden administration is feeling the increasing pressure – both from the international community and within parts of Biden’s Democratic party – to join international calls for a cease-fire.

He had “expressed support for a cease-fire” in an earlier call with Netanyahu on Monday, the White House said. But he went on to block a joint effort led by France, Jordan, and Egypt to that end at the UN Security Council.

The Biden administration has instead been pursuing what Press Secretary Jen Psaki described as “quiet, intensive diplomacy” at a White House press briefing Tuesday.

The conflict is in its second week, with Israel launching airstrikes into Gaza, and Gaza militants firing rockets toward Israel every day since May 10.

Most of the casualties have been in Gaza, with Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting much of the incoming barrage. A total of 219 people in Gaza have been reported dead, at least 63 of whom were children, the BBC reported. Ten people, also including children, have been killed in Israel, the BBC said.

Israeli airstrikes and artillery have reduced several buildings and crucial infrastructure to rubble in operations the Israeli Defense Forces have said were targeting Hamas militants.

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Netanyahu rejects Biden’s call for de-escalation and says Israel’s Gaza offensive will continue

Biden Netanayhu
Then-Vice President Joe Biden sits with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a dinner at the prime minister’s residence on March 9, 2010, in Jerusalem, Israel.

  • Netanyahu rebuffed Biden’s call for a de-escalation in Israel’s Gaza offensive.
  • The Israeli leader said the operation will continue “until its aim is met.”
  • This announcement came amid growing international calls for a cease-fire.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said that he’s “determined” to continue the offensive in Gaza, rebuffing President Joe Biden’s call for an immediate and significant “de-escalation” in the fighting.

Netanyahu said the operation will continue “until its aim is met,” per the Associated Press.

The Israeli prime minister thanked the US for its support, but said the offensive will move forward in order “to return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.”

The White House earlier on Wednesday released a readout of a call between Biden and Netanyahu that said the president told the Israeli leader he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.”

Netanyahu has resisted growing international calls for a cease-fire. In a meeting with foreign ambassadors prior to his call with Biden, the Israeli prime minister said, “We’re not standing with a stopwatch. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a timeframe.”

The Biden administration has tiptoed around the issue of a cease-fire, initially avoiding taking a public position on it. Amid mounting pressure in Washington from top Democrats, Biden on Monday expressed support for a cease-fire. His conversation with Netanyahu on Wednesday marked a gradual increase in the level of public pressure Biden is exerting on Israel. The president has faced criticism from progressives over his approach to the fighting, and particularly for not showing more concern for Palestinian civilians.

Israel has pummeled Gaza with airstrikes over the past 10 days, leveling residential buildings and displacing thousands of people in the process. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at least 58,000 Palestinians have been displaced as a consequence of the bombing campaign.

As of Wednesday, at least 219 Palestinians have been killed, including 63 children, per BBC News. Hamas rocket attacks have killed at least 12 in Israel, including two children.

Top human rights groups have raised concerns about potential war crimes committed by both sides during the fighting.

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Netanyahu says military campaign will continue despite increasing calls for ceasefire as Israeli airstrikes killed 42 people in Gaza Sunday

People inspect the rubble of a building in Gaza that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike
People inspect the rubble of the Yazegi residential building that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said attacks against Hamas will continue at “full-force.”
  • Calls for a ceasefire have grown, including from the UN Secretary-General and a group of US senators.
  • At least 42 people, including 10 children, were killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Sunday.
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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the country’s military campaign against the militant group Hamas will continue despite increasing international calls for a ceasefire.

Sunday also marked the deadliest attack in the latest round of violence, with at least 42 people killed in Gaza, including 10 children, according to the Associated Press.

Netanyahu appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation and was asked how long the recent bout of attacks will continue.

“Well, we hope that it doesn’t continue very long, but we were attacked by Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “Thousands of rockets and missiles on our cities and I think any country has to defend itself and has a natural right of self-defense. We’ll do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet.”

He continued: “We’re trying to degrade Hamas’s terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again. So it will take some time. I hope it won’t take long but it’s not immediate.”

Earlier reports indicated Israel could be headed towards a ceasefire, but during a televised address Netanyahu said the attacks would continue at “full-force,” AP reported.

Hamas attacks have also continued, as more rockets were launched from civilian areas of Gaza on Sunday with one hitting a synagogue.

Calls from the international community to end the violence have intensified. United Nations Secretary-General Antonie Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire during a UN security council meeting on Sunday, CNBC reported.

“This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” Guterres said.

President Joe Biden has not called for an immediate ceasefire, prompting criticism from some Democrats, but his ambassador to the UN said during the Security Council meeting that the US is “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels” to end the attacks, AP reported.

In a joint statement Sunday, a group of 28 US senators, led by Democrat Sen. Jon Ossoff, urged an immediate ceasefire “to prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

AP reported that the latest round of attacks by Hamas and Israel have killed 188 people in Gaza, including 55 children, and eight people in Israel, including one child, as of Sunday.

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Biden says he’s not seen a ‘significant overreaction’ with Israel’s offensive in Gaza

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Palestinians walk next to the remains of a destroyed 15 story building after being hit by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021.

  • Biden said he hasn’t seen a “significant overreaction” in Israel’s Gaza offensive.
  • Israel has been pummeling Gaza with airstrikes, leveling buildings and killing dozens.
  • Biden has touted Israel’s right to self-defense amid rocket attacks from Hamas, which have killed seven.
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President Joe Biden on Thursday said he has not seen a “significant overreaction” of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which has included devastating airstrikes that have leveled buildings and killed dozens.

“One of the things that I have seen thus far is that there has not been a significant overreaction,” Biden said during a press briefing, adding that the goal is to see a reduction in rockets flying in to Israel from Gaza.

As the region witnesses the worst violence seen since the 50-day war in 2014, the Israeli military has been pummeling Gaza with airstrikes – in some cases leveling apartment buildings – as Hamas and other militant groups fire hundreds of rockets toward Israel.

Israel has rebuffed any discussions of a ceasefire and vowed to continue the offensive.

At least 83 people in Gaza have been killed so far, including 17 children, per BBC News, while at least seven Israelis have been killed. The International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor has warned she’s monitoring the fighting for potential war crimes.

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Palestinians carry the body of a child found in the rubble of a house belonging to the Al-Tanani family, that was destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 13, 2021.

Israel on Thursday prepared ground troops along the border with Gaza, raising the possibility of an invasion. This came as riots and violence between Jews and Arabs filled the streets of several Israeli cities, moving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to warn against “lynching.”

After a phone call with Netanyahu, Biden on Wednesday defended Israel’s right to self-defense and condemned Hamas over the rocket attacks. The president did not express concern about Israeli military tactics or the rising death toll on the Palestinian side.

“Israel has the right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory,” Biden told reporters. “My hope is that we’ll see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later.”

He was subsequently criticized by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who said Biden’s remarks dehumanized Palestinians and lacked important context on what catalyzed the bloodshed.

Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and general treatment of Palestinians, which rights groups have increasingly decried as a form of apartheid, remain at the heart of the tensions fueling the violence. The historically contentious dynamic has been exacerbated more recently via planned evictions of Palestinians out of a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, as well as an Israeli police raid on Monday at an important Muslim holy site amid Ramadan.

With no permanent US ambassador in Israel, Biden was in many ways unprepared for the recent violence in the region. The State Department on Wednesday announced it was “immediately” sending an envoy to the region as part of an effort to deescalate tensions.

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