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In Israel talks, U.S. reaffirms demands for Middle East's future — to little success

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A rift is deepening between the Biden administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The backdrop is the war in Gaza and what the future should hold for Palestinians. NPR's Daniel Estrin has more from Tel Aviv.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: President Biden used to speak to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly in the first months of the Gaza war. But today, they held their first conversation in nearly a month. In a press conference last night, Netanyahu said sometimes he has to say no, even to Israel's best friends, meaning the U.S. Netanyahu is rejecting the U.S. demand for a two-state solution to the conflict, Israel living alongside a future state of Palestine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Netanyahu said for the foreseeable future, Israel must hold security control over the entire territory because Israel has been attacked from areas it relinquished.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: At virtually every turn, President Biden is being rebuffed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

ESTRIN: Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen speaking to NPR.

VAN HOLLEN: President Biden has tried to jawbone Netanyahu into reducing the number of civilian casualties, allowing more humanitarian assistance into Gaza, talking about a two-state future to provide some light at the end of this very dark tunnel. And Prime Minister Netanyahu is giving the United States the stiff arm.

ESTRIN: Before the Hamas attack on October 7 and Israel's military bombardment of Gaza, the U.S. was trying to broker historic diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. said that would be possible if there's a cease-fire in Gaza and a guaranteed path toward a Palestinian state. Such a deal with Saudi Arabia would be Netanyahu's No. 1 priority, but he's being tied down by his far-right political partners who oppose any more rights for Palestinians. David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says President Biden wants Netanyahu to fight off his far-right flank, just as Biden is fighting off outrage among progressive Democrats over the war.

DAVID MAKOVSKY: I think he says, listen. You know, man, this is - war isn't easy. We want the same things. We want Israel safe from the terror of Hamas. You know, we're doing things that are hard for us. You should do things that are hard for you.

ESTRIN: There's also a rift growing inside Netanyahu's own war cabinet about where Israel should take the war next. One of the five officials in the inner circle leading the war, Gadi Eisenkot, says only a cease-fire can get Israeli hostages out of Gaza and not the military pressure Netanyahu says is needed. On Israeli TV, he said Netanyahu shares responsibility for the, quote, "biggest security failure in the country's history" and called for elections within months. Those are signs of frustration with Netanyahu not just from the Biden administration but from within Israel's own war cabinet.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.