The Changing American Position on Israeli Government’s Management of The War in The Gaza Strip

The disagreements between the American administration and the Israeli government regarding the war in the Gaza Strip are a continuation of the apparent contradictions in the visions and policies between the two parties since the formation of the Israeli government at the end of December 2022, which U.S. President Joe Biden described as “the most right-wing in the history of Israel.” It is likely that these disagreements will continue between the two parties regarding their priorities during the coming period, but the deepening of this disagreement into the structure of the bilateral relations is unlikely.

  • Release Date – Apr 22, 2024

Differences between the U.S. administration and the Israeli government reached a turning point in early April over the latter’s approach to the war on the Gaza Strip after an Israeli airstrike killed seven people working for a U.S.-based international food charity in Gaza. Eight days later, U.S. President Joe Biden’s called for a ceasefire, describing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to the war as “a mistake.”

This changing position comes after a wave of critical statements about the policies of the Israeli government among the pillars of the Democratic Party, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the United States. Urging Israel to hold elections to choose new leadership, the New York senator said Netanyahu and his “radical right-wing” allies in government are “one of the main obstacles to peace.”

U.S.-Israeli Points of Disagreement

The differences between the U.S. administration and the Israeli government over the war in the Gaza Strip was a continuation of apparent contradictions in both visions and policies between the two since the formation of Natanyahu’s government at the end of December 2022, which Biden described this April as the “most conservative government in Israel’s history.” During a March 2023 visit to Washington, neither the White House nor any government agency met with Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also handles civil administration in the West Bank and just two weeks earlier had called for a Palestinian village to be “wiped out.” And unlike the custom of receiving Israeli prime ministers at the White House within a short period of their appointment, Biden did not meet with Netanyahu until September 2023—and it wasn’t in the Oval Office but rather a New York City hotel room on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly.

Pre-War Points of Contention

The U.S. position in the pre-war phase was shaped by Washington’s concerns about the repercussions of the extremist activities and practices of some members of the Israeli government, specifically on two main issues. The first was the Knesset’s judicial reforms project, which caused unprecedented division inside Israel, and the second was the increase in extremist behaviors in the occupied West Bank, especially with the Israeli government’s plans to promote settlements there.


Post-war points of contention

The U.S.-Israel disagreement was clear about the attempts by Netanyahu’s government to undermine stability in the West Bank and tighten the noose on the Palestinian Authority by withholding Palestinian tax funds despite Washington’s warning that this could lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority at a time when the U.S. administration sought to enable the Authority to manage the Gaza Strip after the end of the war. Meanwhile, as cases of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank increased after the outbreak of the war, the United States imposed a series of sanctions on settlers and the Netzah Yehuda battalion of the Israeli Defense Forces for human rights violations in the West Bank.

Points of Contention Over the Conduct of the War Itself

Although the two sides agree on the main objectives of the war—the release of Israeli detainees held by Palestinian factions and the elimination of Hamas’s capabilities and control—the point of contention between them lies in the means and tools to achieve those goals as well as their approach to post-war issues.

 Washington has been pressing for months to reach a long-standing truce that would allow both the release of Israeli detainees and full access for humanitarian aid to reach the people of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government, however, insists on relying on military pressure to release the hostages, declaring its readiness to invade the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip amid American and international opposition out of fear for the fate of more than 1 million Palestinians living there.

Washington’s demands for tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip—and an end to the indiscriminate killing of civilians—comes as the civilian death toll from Israel’s war exceeded 38,000 as of mid-April. Israel has responded to U.S. pressure by switching to less intensive military operations. After gradually withdrawing most of its military divisions and brigades from the Strip, only the Nahal Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces is currently active in the Gaza Strip.

Other threats to the lives of Palestinians under the suffocating Israeli blockade of food and humanitarian aid, especially in the northern areas of the Strip, still exist amid United Nations warnings of an “imminent famine” that is an “entirely man-made disaster.” This prompted the United States to move unilaterally to immediately deliver aid by air and build a naval pier to expedite its delivery by sea.

 While Israel and America agree on the goal of undermining Hamas, the United States does not see military tools only as a way to do so. Recognizing the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people, the U.S. administration has set among its post-war goals the establishment of a unified Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, an effort opposed by the Israeli government. America opposes Israel’s reoccupation of the Gaza Strip, fearing it may lead to the sustainability of Hamas’s legitimacy and armed resistance among Palestinians.

The Turning Point in the American Position

Although the most obvious turn in the American position came in the wake of Israeli’s deadly raid on aid workers, the seismic shift occurred earlier when the Israeli government announced its plans to invade Rafah, where Tel Aviv believes there are four Hamas battalions of about 1,000 fighters each, in addition to a number of high-level movement leaders. For Israel, a successful invasion there is a major requirement for its declaration of victory over Hamas. But for the United States such an invasion means an unacceptable return to a state of high-intensity warfare with aerial bombardment, intense fire belts of Israeli missiles dropped to obliterate specific geographical areas, and the strengthening of its combat brigades—all of which will cause massive civilian casualties Washington is no longer able to accept, especially with the approach of the presidential elections and the increasing rejection of the war by the American public, especially among members of the Democratic Party.


The United States prefers to search for alternatives to the Israeli invasion of Rafah, especially since it does not believe there is a ready-made Israeli plan to carry out the invasion without harming the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have sought shelter there.

After the Biden administration realized the decline in its ability to influence the policies of the Israeli government and the futility of its official statements opposing the invasion, it began to significantly escalate its steps and procedures to intensify pressure on the Israeli government. It began to call for a “ceasefire” rather than the “truce” that had been used in official U.S. statements since the beginning of the war. This constitutes a remarkable shift and change in one of the main pillars of the U.S. policy towards the war that absolutely rejected any ceasefire before Israel had achieved its goals of eliminating Hamas or, at least, had undermined its administration and influence in Gaza. Accordingly, Washington had provided unconditional support to Israel at military, armament, political, intelligence, and diplomatic levels. Now, those forms of U.S. support are witnessing three major changes towards

First, after the United States unconditionally supported Israel and vetoed three projects related to the war in the Gaza Strip in the United Nations Security Council, it abstained from voting on the resolution adopted by the Council on March 25, 2024, that demanded an unconditional ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all detainees, and the acceleration of the entry of aid. Washington’s decision to abstain from voting and not to block the resolution is seen as a U.S. affirmation of its priorities in not invading Rafah, releasing detainees, and bringing in aid.

Second, in the “National Security Memorandum No. 20” issued this February, the White House required foreign governments that use U.S. weapons to provide written guarantees that they will use those weapons in a manner consistent with international and humanitarian law. A month later, on March 15, the Israeli government provided assurances to the U.S. State Department that it “does not arbitrarily prevent US humanitarian assistance and does not violate international humanitarian law.” The White House and the State Department must evaluate those guarantees and submit the results to Congress by May 2024. If Israel is found to be non-compliant, Biden will be able to suspend all future arms sales to Israel.

Third, the U.S. administration warned the Israeli government to change its policies towards the war in the Gaza Strip. If it does not protect Palestinian civilians and aid workers, then future U.S. assistance to Israel will be affected. “What we want to see are some real changes on the Israeli side. And, you know, if we don’t see changes from their side,” warned White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby, “there will have to be changes from our side.” This stark warning was repeated almost word-for-word by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “If we don’t see the changes that we need to see, there will be changes in our policy.”

U.S. Administration’s Strategic Objectives

Nearly half a year after its outbreak, the war has entered a strategic stage for both Israel and Hamas. It was expected at this very sensitive stage that both sides would adhere to their demands without concession or equivocation, and that their fundamental priorities and differences would deepen and complicate calculations. From this point of view, it was expected that negotiations on a truce or ceasefire would stall since the proposed framework agreement on a truce and hostage release deal drafted by the three mediators—Qatar, Egypt, and the United States, along with Israeli security officials—in Paris on January 28, 2024.

For the United States, the remarkable change in the administration’s rhetoric is not only a tool for exerting pressure on the Israeli government, but it also serves to underscore two main points.

First, considering it a valuable and strategic goal of the Biden administration, whether at the electoral level or even the historical record of that administration, the opportunity to make a major shift in the overall scene of the Middle East, starting with the removal of Hamas rule from the Gaza Strip and the replacement of the Palestinian Authority in the administration of the Strip, is an American effort to establish a Palestinian state that meets the requirements of the two-state solution.

This is directly reflected in the Saudi-Israeli peace negotiations sponsored by the United States, in which Riyadh stipulates the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in return for which the state of Israel would be recognized. Thus, Biden’s record will be an achievement that will not only contribute to his support in the November presidential election against his Republican rival Donald Trump, but he will also go down in history as the president who helped resolve the world’s most complex conflict.

Second, this change reflects a new strategic direction of the United States: after vigorous attempts by the last three administrations to reduce U.S. involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East and focus instead on strategic competition with China in the Indo-Pacific region and Russia in the European continent, the war in the Gaza Strip has returned the Middle East to be once again among Washington’s top priorities. The emerging war in the Gaza Strip significantly affected U.S. financial support for Ukraine in its defense against Russia, with serious risk to the Ukrainian army’s ability to hold ground against the remarkable progress of the Russian army in several strategic areas of eastern Ukraine. Therefore, the U.S. administration is trying to accelerate the passage of a $60 billion military aid package to help Kiev defeat the Russian invasion and support European countries that jointly decided to resume sending military aid independent of the threats by the United States and France to send defense forces to Ukraine, which would threaten to drag Europe and NATO into a direct war with Russia.

However, the policies of the Israeli government completely contradict the aspirations of the U.S. administration as well as the requirements of American national security. Tel Aviv rejects the Palestinian Authority’s rule of the Gaza Strip, opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, and has taken steps to undermine a two-state solution. This leaves the Gaza Strip subject to Israeli occupation and the West Bank on the verge of collapse, which means that the Palestinian cause will remain an expandable conflict that will continue to drain the United States.

It is likely that this conviction was strengthened after the Iranian attacks on Israel. Washington fears that Israel’s response will drag the United States into a war it does not want in the Middle East. This may lead to America’s withdrawal in the region, especially since Israel attacked the Iranian consulate in Damascus without first notifying Washington of its plans.  Therefore, the United States stressed to Israel the need to coordinate its response to the Iranian attack before its implementation to ensure that uncontrolled escalation in the region is avoided.

The United States realizes that attacking Iran in a way that forces it to respond again will only lead to an endless and expanding cycle of strike and counterstrike. “If Mr. Putin invades a NATO ally,” Biden warned in a commentary he recently wrote for the Wall St. Journal, “we will come to its aid—as our NATO allies did for us after the Sept. 11 attacks. We should surge support to Ukraine now, to stop Mr. Putin from encroaching on our NATO allies and ensure that he doesn’t draw U.S. troops into a future war in Europe.” Therefore, Washington and Tel Aviv preferred not to adopt a strike against military facilities Isfahan or to indicate damage or showcase the weapons used.


Finally, it is likely that differences between the U.S. administration and the Israeli government over each other’s priorities will continue in the coming period. But the deepening of that disagreement into the structure of bilateral relations is unlikely, as implied by the passage of $26 billion in assistance to Israel and humanitarian relief in Gaza by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Washington’s preference for dealing with a more responsive Israeli government and dealing with its strategic priorities remains a matter of debate, especially after the American silence towards daily demonstrations in Tel Aviv demanding early elections and hosting prominent political figures in Washington opposed to Netanyahu and his government such as war cabinet Minister and retired General Benny Gantz and Opposition Leader and former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, which indicates an American desire for Israel to re-engineer its government away from extremist currents.


Policy Analysis Team