President Biden warned Israel’s leaders on Tuesday that they were losing international support for their war in Gaza, exposing a widening rift with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who rejected out of hand the American vision for a postwar resolution to the conflict.
Mr. Biden delivered the blunt assessment of America’s closest ally in the Middle East during a fund-raiser in Washington, where he described Mr. Netanyahu as the leader of “the most conservative government in Israel’s history,” which “doesn’t want a two-state solution” to the country’s long-running dispute with Palestinians.
“Right now it has more than the United States,” Mr. Biden said of the support for Israel. “It has the European Union, it has Europe, it has most of the world supporting it. But they’re starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place.”
The president’s remarks came hours after Mr. Netanyahu pledged to defy weeks of American pressure to put the Palestinian Authority in charge of Gaza once the fighting ends. Mr. Netanyahu ruled out any role there for the group, which now governs Palestinian society in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
“There is disagreement about ‘the day after Hamas,’” Mr. Netanyahu said in a video statement posted on social media. He said he hoped the two governments could reach an agreement about what happens after the war ends, but he vowed not to allow threats to Israel’s population to continue.
“After the great sacrifice of our civilians and our soldiers, I will not allow the entry into Gaza of those who educate for terrorism, support terrorism and finance terrorism,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan.”
Fatah is the political faction, a rival to Hamas, that controls the Palestinian Authority, which was ousted from Gaza in 2007 but still administers parts of the West Bank.
Until Tuesday, the United States had largely backed Israel both in action and in rhetoric — supporting the assault on Gaza, fending off calls for a cease-fire at the United Nations and authorizing the sale of thousands of tank shells to the Israelis.
In his remarks at the fund-raiser, Mr. Biden pledged to continue that support for Israel’s effort to protect itself, saying that “we’re not going to do a damn thing other than protect Israel in the process. Not a single thing.”
“Without Israel as a free-standing state, not a Jew in the world is safe,” he added.
But he also described his response to Mr. Netanyahu’s private assertion that the United States had “carpet-bombed” Germany and dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.
“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s why all these institutions were set up after World War II, to see to it that it didn’t happen again,’” Mr. Biden told the donors at the event.
Hours earlier, Mr. Netanyahu appeared to take note of the months of American support in his address.
“I greatly appreciate the American support for destroying Hamas and returning our hostages,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Following an intensive dialogue with President Biden and his team, we received full backing for the ground incursion and blocking the international pressure to stop the war.”
But the tone from both men suggested that the well-wishing could soon end.
Mr. Biden’s remarks were his most critical to date of Mr. Netanyahu’s handling of the war, which continues to claim the lives of thousands of civilians in Gaza. The two men had declared unshakable unity during Mr. Biden’s visit to Israel days after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Oct. 7 and slaughtered 1,200 people.
Nearly two months of aerial bombardment by Israel and a continuing ground war have leveled much of Gaza City in the northern part of the tiny enclave, which is home to nearly two million Palestinians. More than 15,000 people, including several thousand children, have been killed in Gaza during the fighting, according to the territory’s health authorities.
The United Nations says that more than 85 percent of the population has been displaced, with some aid organizations reporting rampant disease and widespread hunger.
Mr. Netanyahu says his government is determined to destroy Hamas’s ability to threaten Israel’s population, and has repeatedly warned Palestinians to move south. Some locations in the south of Gaza have also been bombed, drawing criticism from humanitarian organizations.
Fighting between Israeli forces and armed groups raged near a small hospital in northern Gaza on Monday and over the weekend. The hospital, Kamal Adwan, has 65 patients, including 12 children in intensive care, and is surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks, according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The report said that the hospital’s maternity department had been hit on Monday and that, “as a result, two mothers were reportedly killed, and several people were injured.” It was not possible to verify the toll. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Top aides to Mr. Biden have said the president believes that his full-throated support of Israel has given him more leverage to press Mr. Netanyahu for restraint as Israel conducts its ground war in Gaza. He has repeatedly described his decades-long history with Israel; Monday evening, he declared at a White House Hanukkah reception: “I am a Zionist.”
Last month, Mr. Biden and his top foreign policy aides helped broker a temporary pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and the release of more than 100 of the roughly 240 hostages that Hamas seized on Oct. 7.
White House officials said Mr. Biden would meet at the White House on Wednesday with the families of Americans taken hostage by Hamas, his first face-to-face meeting with the relatives since the crisis began.
A White House official confirmed the meeting, but did not offer details about how many of the family members would attend the meeting in person. The president previously spoke with the families on a video call about a week after the attacks.
Biden administration officials have indicated there are about eight remaining hostages with American citizenship after several were released, including during a weeklong pause in fighting last month.
Mr. Biden’s public message has evolved since the Oct. 7 attacks. He publicly urged Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza in its war against Hamas, and White House officials have said he has been blunt with Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials during private conversations.
But the president has largely left it to other American officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, to call out Israel for its actions on the battlefield. And his comments on Tuesday were the president’s first direct acknowledgment of the condemnation by world leaders and humanitarian organizations of Israel’s wartime behavior.
Using the prime minister’s nickname, Mr. Biden said that “Bibi’s got a tough decision to make.”
The rising tension between the two men underscored the sensitive moment for the two allies as Mr. Biden seeks to persuade lawmakers in Washington to support more than $15 billion in additional aid for Israel’s military campaign. That funding is currently caught up in a political dispute with Republicans over assistance for Ukraine and immigration policy changes at the U.S. border.
Mr. Biden has repeatedly asserted Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism by Hamas, and his administration on Friday vetoed a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in the war.
But on Monday, administration officials said they were looking into reports that Israel’s military had deployed white phosphorus supplied by the United States along the border with Lebanon, in violation of international law.
That allegation, made in reports by Amnesty International and The Washington Post, represented another potential disagreement between the two countries about Israel’s conduct. Israel’s military on Monday said it complies with international law and denied using the weapon illegally.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said the United States would be “asking questions” about the incident. White phosphorus is an incendiary, toxic substance used to create light and smoke screens during combat. Its use is not illegal, but deploying it deliberately against civilians or in a civilian setting violates the laws of war.
Eric Nagourney, Gaya Gupta and Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting.