U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12, 2023. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) — In some of his strongest public comments to date acknowledging criticism of Israel’s retaliatory campaign in Gaza, President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that the country was starting to lose support around the world due to what he said was “the indiscriminate bombing that takes place.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a “tough decision to make,” Biden said during a fundraising event, while noting that Netanyahu understands that “he’s got to make some moves to strengthen [the Palestinian Authority] — strengthen it, change it, move it.”

“You cannot say there’s no Palestinian state at all in the future. And that’s going to be the hard part,” he added, according to a transcript of his remarks at a closed-door reception in Washington.

“But in the meantime, we’re not going to do a damn thing other than protect Israel in the process. Not a single thing,” he continued.

Biden said the current Israeli administration is “the most conservative government in Israel’s history,” adding that some members of Israel’s leadership “don’t want a two-state solution,” which is viewed by the U.S. and many other allies to Israel as the most likely pathway to peace.

While Biden and Netanyahu have not seen eye-to-eye on many issues, in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks against Israel, the president has largely overlooked those differences, standing beside his friend of many decades in solidarity and even traveling to Israel in the early weeks of the war to show his support.

Netanyahu has not directly addressed Biden’s comments, but he has repeatedly defended Israel’s actions in Gaza and rejected condemnation from other countries, saying in November that Israel would “stand firm against the world if necessary.”

“No international pressure, no false allegations about [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers and our state” will impact Israel’s insistence on protecting itself, Netanyahu said at a press conference in November.

At a White House press conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later Tuesday, Biden underscored the brutality of Hamas’ attacks on Israel, calling the group “beyond comparison,” but saying he also believes he has made clear to the Israelis that “the safety of innocent Palestinians is still of great concern.”

“The actions they’re taking must be consistent with attempting to do everything possible to prevent innocent Palestinian civilians from being hurt, murdered, killed,” Biden said.

Biden’s Tuesday remarks appear to go a step beyond his recent comments on the conflict, where he has also reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to supporting Israel and its right to defend itself.

During a Hanukkah reception at the White House on Monday, Biden vowed his “commitment to the safety of Jewish people, and the security of Israel, and its right to exist as an independent Jewish state is unshakable.”

However, he also cautioned that Israel needs to “be careful” because “the whole world’s public opinion can shift overnight,” adding, “We can’t let that happen.”

Biden may have been alluding to a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that demands an immediate cease-fire — a position opposed by both the U.S. and Israel, though the U.S. did successfully lobby Israel to permit several pauses in the fighting to allow for aid and hostages to move within particular regions of the conflict. While the U.S. was able to veto a similar resolution presented by the 15-member U.N. Security Council last week, it was unable to prevent the Tuesday resolution from being adopted since no country has veto power over the full body. The resolution, which passed in a 153-10 vote with 23 countries abstaining, is not legally binding.

Although Biden’s schedule on Tuesday was dominated by Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, a White House official said that he would meet in-person for the first time on Wednesday with family members of Americans taken hostage by Hamas during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks.

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