Netanyahu Cancels U.S.-Israel Meetings on Rafah, to Protest Cease-Fire Resolution

For the increasingly tense U.S.-Israel relationship, the fallout from passage of the U.N. cease-fire resolution was immediate, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he would not send a planned high-level delegation to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials.

President Biden had requested the meetings to discuss alternatives to a planned Israeli offensive into Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than a million people have sought refuge, an offensive that American officials have said would create an humanitarian disaster.

The United States had vetoed three previous U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for an end to the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, agreeing with Israel’s argument that it would leave Hamas intact and in control of the enclave after it carried out the Oct. 7 assault on Israel.

But on Monday, when the Security Council took up a less strongly worded resolution, calling for a cease-fire for the holy month of Ramadan, the U.S. representative abstained, allowing the measure to pass.

Mr. Netanyahu, in a statement, denounced the abstention as “a retreat from the consistent American position since the beginning of the war,” one which “gives Hamas hope that international pressure will enable them to achieve a cease-fire without freeing the hostages.”

In response, he said, the Israeli delegation that was to discuss Rafah would not go to Washington. The practical impact of his decision may be limited — Mr. Netanyahu has said repeatedly that although he would hear out the White House position, the offensive would proceed — but it is still a sharp, public rebuke of Israel’s closest and most powerful ally.

Briefing reporters at the White House, John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, insisted there had been no change in the American position, and said that the United States had abstained, rather than vote for the U.N. measure, chiefly because “this resolution text did not include a condemnation of Hamas.”

He said there had been no official notification that the delegation from Israel was not coming to Washington, but added: “We were looking forward to having an opportunity to speak to a delegation later this week on exploring viable options and alternatives to a major ground offensive in Rafah.”

“We felt we had valuable lessons to share,” Mr. Kirby said. He noted that Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, was in Washington and was still expected to meet with President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.

Mr. Gallant, before meeting with Mr. Sullivan, gave no sign Israel would agree to a cease-fire. “We will operate against Hamas everywhere — including in places where we have not yet been,” he said. He added, “We have no moral right to stop the war while there are still hostages held in Gaza.”

The U.N. resolution and the American role in it drew angry responses from far-right elements of Israel’s government. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, called the move “proof that President Biden is not prioritizing Israel and the free world’s victory over terrorism, but rather his own political considerations.” The resolution, he said in a statement, should prompt Israel to intensify rather than moderate its military campaign.

Israel has faced intense international criticism over its conduct of the war in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack — a bombing campaign and ground invasion that have killed some 30,000 people, displaced most of Gaza’s population and reduced much of the territory to ruins.

President Biden and other U.S. officials have become increasingly, openly critical of the war effort, saying that Israel should do more to avoid civilian casualties and allow more aid into Gaza — an unusually stark breach between the two nations.

Hamas is holding more than 100 hostages seized during the Oct. 7 attack, and negotiations have been underway for the release of hostages in return for Israel freeing Palestinian inmates in its prisons. The U.N. resolution calls for the immediate release of hostages.

Hamas welcomed the U.N. Security Council resolution in a statement on Telegram, adding that the Palestinian armed group was willing “to immediately engage on a prisoner exchange process that would lead to the release of prisoners on both sides.”

“Hamas calls upon the Security Council to pressure Israel to comply with a cease-fire and end the war, the genocide and ethnic cleansing against our people,” the group said.

David E. Sanger and Cassandra Vinograd contributed reporting.

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